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article imageOp-Ed: Diversifing the tech world

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By George Arthur     Feb 27, 2014 in Technology
It’s rare that I write about a subject that I have next to no experience in, but here I am writing about encouraging signs which point to the tech world becoming less white-male oriented, and instead more representative of, well, everyone.
First up, seed funding firm Y Combinator announced today that they will be supporting the non-profit coding educator CodeNOW. To have Y Combinator backing a burgeoning company is no small thing – just ask Reddit, Scribd, Airbnb, Rap Genius, Coinbase, or Disqus – so expect to hear more and more about Code Now (which is currently operating in New York City, San Francisco and Washington D.C.) in the near future.
What is particularly cool about CodeNOW is their approach to teaching code. As opposed to say, Code Academy (another Y Combinator beneficiary), which takes somewhat of a shotgun approach – letting users anywhere access programs and have a go at independently learning a particular code – CodeNOW operates by providing “free out-of-school training in computer programming to high schoolers hosted at local tech companies.”
By virtue of just this one aspect of their operation the service is compelling – one on one support for aspiring coders at no cost; wow! But there’s more. As noted on the CodeNOW website, the tech industry is booming – roughly 9,600 U.S. jobs are added per month, each with an average wage of $78,000. However, within the tech industry only 22% of employees are women, and to raise your eyebrow further, only 5% of jobs are held by Latino’s or African-Americans. 5%!
That in mind, CodeNOW focuses on training these highly underrepresented groups. This is a good thing for everyone; as the tech industry becomes more representative of society, the innovations will undoubtedly get better. Homogeneity is boring and discourages innovation.
But there’s another problem, one that any regular video-game player will readily admit…
Good god, nearly every game out there features a white male hero who is supported by a cast of caricaturized double-d havin’ babes who HATE clothing, and hulking, mischievous foreigners whose ‘special abilities’ usually consist of superhuman strength and/or thievery. And because video games are so often among the first interactions people have with the tech world, this is a problem; it's feels exclusionary if you're not a white male.
I once read an article about racism in Dragon Ball Z. As a white male who never got remotely involved in the ‘DBZ’ world, I had never really thought about it – at all. But the article was interesting; for example, this snippet caught my eye and stuck with me:
The contentious transformation of a Dragon Ball Z character.
The contentious transformation of a Dragon Ball Z character.
Wakarimasen
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“Notice anything? (…) Each character starts out having black hair and a monkey’s tail. However, through various processes, they all come to lose their tails, and learn how to turn themselves into powerful Super Saiyans. When they become super Saiyans, their brown eyes and black hair become golden locks of discrimination and blue pools of murder scenes for racially driven drownings.”
Hyperbolic? Maybe. Understandable? Totally.
But this trend appears to be changing too. For example, check out this article on the newly-released downloadable chapter Left Behind for the popular zombie apocalypse game The Last of Us. The reviewer, Laura Hudson, is – I suspect – a woman. In her article she points out a few ridiculous facts, for one, “two-thirds of all videogame box art featured no female characters and when they did appear, they were sexualized more than 60% of the time.”
Hyperbolic? Not at all. Reasonable source for outrage? Totally.
But as noted by Hudson, and confirmed by me, The Last of Us is a fantastic game that – finally – does justice to the depth of the human being that is a female; shocking! Perhaps Hudson said it better when describing Ellie, the hero of Left Behind (and really, of The Last of Us):
“Instead of this making her weak and foolish, as the mystical scrolls of gender norms had foretold, Ellie became a warrior. She was still a girl, but one capable of creeping up behind a grown man trying to kill her and shivving him in the neck. She got to be both vulnerable and dangerous, scared and brave, weak and strong. She got to be human.”
This is great news too. More and more, regardless of any birth condition, people are engaging in technology and thus it’s important to have products and services that do justice to all users. If nearly half of all gamers are female, why are there so few games that allow females to be anything but a fetishized sketch?
Put the two articles together and you might just get a warm and fuzzy feeling. I mean, with programs like those being offered by CodeNOW taking off, and with products and services taking a less white-male oriented, more balanced approach to the world at large, it might just be that the tech world finally disrupts a problem that so many people fail to note; that the tech industry doesn’t accurately represent its consumers whether measured by employment levels or product offerings.
With more games like The Last of Us, and more organizations like CodeNOW, this divide can and will bridge. And with a more representative tech world, the spirit of innovation upon which the industry depends will flourish; drawing in more minds from more backgrounds and helping to bring the best ideas to boil.
UPDATE: Special thanks to Kate Garcia for pointing out that this article had previously titled CodeNOW as "Code Now".
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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