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Joe Carnahan
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St Patrick's feast day
I think we all know that.

Dude was not Irish, you know! he was captured and enslaved by them. Came back to the country where he had been a slave, converted the whole place to Christianity.

Then, later, Ireland saved Western civilization.

So let's not have any Republican bullpockey about how you don't save civilization with other people's babies. Because that's exactly how you do save it.

(What DO they teach them in these schools?)

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Lots of (admittedly little, but it's a start) stuff like this is why I like working at Google. Signed, Joe Carnahan, "Male Lady Software Engineer"

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I read about racial housing discrimination in the past, but somehow reading an official government document condemning a neighborhood as a "hazard" because of a dozen black families (with the nicest-kept houses in the neighborhood, no less - So much for "respectability"!) makes it so much more real.
You may have heard of "redlining" as a method of not only enforcing racial segregation in the US, but as a systematic method of taking wealth away from the nascent black middle class in the 20th century: the Federal Housing Administration, set up to help Americans get housing in 1934, routinely surveyed every residential tract in the country and classified them according to "risk." Areas with black populations, or which might soon acquire black populations, were marked in red; those areas could not get ordinary home loans at all, with only highly predatory loans (of sorts as bad as the subprime ones of the past few years, and even worse) available.

This was the engine for any number of scams: "blockbusting," for example, in which a realtor would convince the residents of a neighborhood that black families were about to move in, get them to sell at a discount before prices crashed, then actually bring said black families in and sell to them at outrageous prices, because they could only get special high-interest loans. Often, these loans were rigged so that they could never be successfully paid off, allowing the sellers to seize both the houses and all of the mortgage payments over the years; this is one of the major reasons why black wealth (as opposed to income) is, on the average, only one tenth of average white wealth.

But these seem like general abstractions. The scan below, unearthed by Alexis Madrigal, shows you what it looked like in practice: this is a government assessment of a tract in Oakland in 1937. It describes the tract's "favorable influences" as "convenience to local and San Francisco transportation, schools, and local shopping districts. Good climatic conditions." The "detrimental influences" are "Infiltration of colored residents. There are now about twelve families scattered over the area indicated."

If you look at the rest of the form, you'll see that under the description of "inhabitants," not only are there fields to describe common occupations and salaries in the area, but the percent foreign-born, and a field marked "Infiltration of ___". ("Orientals & Negroes," in this case) But they note that "unless one knows about the colored families living in the district, there is no means of distinguishing their homes from those of their white neighbors. The homes of the Negroes are in many instances better kept than the adjoining homes of white owners."

Nonetheless, "loans in this area should be governed according to hazard" – that is, this area was color-coded red on the map, due to the hazard of further "infiltration."

This wasn't a private organization; this was an official government form, used by a federal agency to ensure that black people could not get loans, and that any neighborhoods with black people in them would quickly become worthless from a housing perspective to anybody white: that is, to legally create ghettos.

So if you're wondering how the economics of the US, and of black poverty, came about: here's where it starts.

If you want to know more about redlining, there are a few great places to start: the Wikipedia article,

Alexis Madrigal's article about it:

and Ta-Nehisi Coates' famous "reparations" article, which is actually almost entirely about redlining as well:

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"sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say 'if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you' and they mean 'if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person'

and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay."


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"Contributor", where you pay websites directly instead of seeing ads, is now open to anyone. Even better: You now have the option of replacing ads with pictures of cats. No joke.

I don't work on Contributor nor do I know anyone who does, but I do know that I'm not the only person who's been saying for years that I'd rather pay websites directly than look at display ads. So, I'm very happy that Google did this.

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The crazy part is that everybody in tech knows that the current way of hiring (resumes from top-ranked schools, referrals, and whiteboard interviews) doesn't work well. So, it's not as if the current recruiting regime has some amazing practical benefit that might offset the cost of missing such a large share of the talent pool.
Despite this article's title, it's about more than just women of color in technology: it's about recruiting and retaining people from underrepresented groups across the board. And that's something extremely important to the success of any technology company.

Why? There are three major reasons.

(1) Diverse groups avoid stupid product mistakes. This is in literally every sense of the word "diverse:" if you have people from different groups in your team, they'll notice – and you'll prioritize – problems that you never would have spotted otherwise. If your system doesn't work for the deaf and someone on your team is deaf, or if it requires hitting tiny affordances all the time and you have someone with a motion disability, you're never going to ship it that way, and that means more users. If your system has a price structure, or a branding, or a visual style that would never appeal to users outside of Silicon Valley, you'll catch that if people on your team are from a very different world. If women experience a different kind of abuse on your system than men do, then you'll build entirely different protections into your system if there are women in the room when you're making the design decisions.

The key point is that these are just examples: nobody can predict what an extra set of eyeballs, especially different eyeballs, will catch. The one thing that's reliable is that each set of eyeballs – not just working grunt jobs, but in the core decision-making process – means you don't make a mistake that shuts out a bunch of potential customers.

(2) Diversity interrupts groupthink. It's really easy for a room full of similar people to start to talk in similar ways. Not only do you not make the right decisions, you don't even realize there are decisions that you're implicitly making. More different eyes prevent that.

(3) You get to hire the best people. People who haven't been in this game very long think "Recruit minorities? You mean lower the bar!" People who have played this for a while hear that and think "Sucker."

The thing about structural racism/sexism/etc. is that a lot of people from the various underrepresented groups don't have the "traditional signifiers" of being good. They won't have gone to the top-tier schools, or they won't have any contacts, or their job history will be so-so. What you quickly learn in engineering, though, is that these signifiers are simply signals that you use when trying to find good people – and overall, as signals, they kind of suck. Terribly.

I've lost count of how many people I've interviewed who came from top-tier schools and had a glowing résumé and couldn't think an independent thought or design a system on their own to save their lives. Top-tier schools don't provide a systematically better education in CS; often, CS departments are so mathematically inclined that students that don't actively go the extra mile come out with a degree in theory and no ability to code. They used to claim that they were "filtering out the best of the best," but in practice, they do a lot of that filtering starting from "people with enough contacts to get in." 

Job histories are sometimes useful, sometimes not, especially in an era where so many people end up unable to find a job for months or years at a stretch anyway. 

References are great, but they're only a positive signal: the lack of references tells you nothing.

And the important thing is, that unless you're a tiny company hiring a temp, or hiring a senior specialist, you shouldn't be hiring for experience: you should be hiring for brains. You can teach CS; you can't teach smart.

What this means is that among these "underrepresented groups," there are a bunch of smart people out there who, lacking these traditional signifiers, aren't getting the right job offers. And that means smart people that you can hire. Lots of them. All you have to do is hire them and treat them with respect.

(As a side note: I attended GHC, the biggest annual conference for women in CS last year, for recruiting purposes. The quality of people looking for jobs there was insane compared to any other CS event.)

But.... if you want to hire and retain these people, you have to make an active effort. This open letter has a bunch of specific suggestions in it which I personally think are all individually excellent: I endorse these ideas wholeheartedly.

(NB: It also makes several statements about how various companies do things. I have it on good authority that several of these statements are incorrect, but I have no personal knowledge either way and so am neither affirming nor negating that part. My endorsement of this letter is about all of the courses of action it favors, which I think are excellent ideas; on the rest, I have no opinion)

I will add: In my groups, people of all genders, races, and backgrounds are not only welcome but actively desired. This is the case now and will continue to be the case in every team I run in the future.

Thanks to +Erica Joy for pointing me at this great letter.

[DISCLAIMER: I am writing this post in my personal capacity and am not speaking on behalf of Google. I make no assertions as to the truth or falsity of any of the claims of fact made within the letter, nor of any conclusions of law. Those of you who have been in the field for a while know why I have to state this, too]

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Bad news, everyone: If you were hoping to use Russell's paradox to confuse the killer Google robots when they come, it won't work.
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