Tech Diversity - An Altercation

Apr 22, 2020
Why we need diverse engineering teams.
The day before I wrote this article, I posted the following on LinkedIn:
People in the software industry SHOULD be doing more to support those who are learning to code from “un-traditional” backgrounds. Myself included.We need diversity and I want to let everyone who is learning to code who has doubts because they don’t fit the traditional “software engineer” mould that this is the case.
Not particularly controversial - why would you not want to support those who need it most?It didn’t take long for me to get the reply I was expecting.:
No we shouldn’t. I never learned how to code from people stopping what they do to help me. If you have that expectation, join politics. Bridges don’t stay up by PR. At the end of the day, you have access to all the tools you need to learn. It’s nobody’s job but your own to ensure your own success in life. If you’re getting into something like Software and/or engineering as a whole, you should expect it to be hard, or you are in the wrong industry. We literally solve problems.
Just for arguments sake, this reply was left by a white male with a Computer Science degree.
I agree - it is no one’s job to ensure your own success in life. But wanting the journey to be hard for others because it was hard for you is a horrible mindset. A mindset I don’t understand.Imagine: You are a single mum, struggling to make ends meet, learning code in your few hours of free time to try and make life just that little bit easier. You then read something like that. “You should expect it to be hard, or you are in the wrong industry”.
I still to this day do not understand why software is so fucking full of gatekeepers. It’s an industry, not a secret club.If it is hard for someone who is so full of privilege it is leaking out onto other peoples social accounts, then how hard is the journey going to be for someone who is in a much worse situation in life. Who doesn’t have the time, the right bias or the money to get a degree but wants to learn software.It doesn’t get any easier when you apply for jobs either.
I have been fortunate enough to play a part in making code tests non-compulsory at Monzo. Our feedback showed that they were a struggle for those who are neuro-diverse. They cause unnecessary anxiety. They are often favoured towards those who have a traditional degree in Computer Science, and therefore heavily biased towards those who come from a privileged background that allowed them to attend a university.  There are far better ways, and more inclusive ways, of determining whether someone is up for the job or not.
I think back to when I was learning code, in my 20’s with no degree, albeit a fairly privileged white male. It was excruciatingly hard. Just someone from the industry reaching out and saying “You can do this” would have meant the world to me, and it is something that we can all actively do. Why would you want people to go through the same struggle you went through when the world of difference can be made just by offering support, motivation and advice.
We need diverse software teams. Different peoples opinions help build more empathetic and therefore better software. Its just a shame that the industry is still riddled with old-hat techniques and views that don’t encourage this.
My mission in life right now is to use my privilege to help software become more diverse and to vouch for those who are under-represented and not following the traditional path into tech.

© James Bedford 2021