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On Silicon Valley, Productivity, and Diversity March 11, 2013

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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Well, there is a huge and unmanageable topic if I ever heard one.  So I’ll be brief.  The thought started with a blog post by Shanley Kane, a product manager in Silicon Valley, who took issue with others who offered their take on sexism in IT.

Long story short, Shanley is mostly right.  Culture is important.  The older I get, the more I want to be somewhere that shares my values.  We spend an awful lot of time at work (even if I work remotely), and we don’t want to feel like we are alienated during that time.

But one of my values is, well, discomfort.  I want to be exposed to ideas that I haven’t been exposed to before.  I want to think, and re-think, my value proposition, and what I bring to any particular table of effort.  The fact that I was born a white male, in a working class and blue collar community, gives me a particular point of view.  And guess what?  That point of view isn’t shared by the vast majority of people in this world.  And in the grand scheme of things they count; in many cases probably more so than I do at this particular time of my life.

Her point, I think, is that there is a dark underside of the culture story in high tech, and in particular in Silicon Valley.  And it doesn’t boil down to race, or ethnic background, or education, or anything like that.  It means different ideas.  And if we aren’t different, in some fundamental way, we don’t have substantially different ideas.

I was surprised at the negative responses to Shanley’s post, and to subsequent writings on the topic.  Well, maybe not particularly surprised, but certainly disappointed.  If we don’t challenge our thinking, sooner or later we will probably fail, and in a spectacular way.

I think that maybe diversity, at least in high tech companies, isn’t a matter of the color of skin, or race, or anything like that.  The comments that veer off into that realm miss the point in a very real way.  Instead, let me ask this question.  What have you done to make yourself emotionally and intellectually uncomfortable today?  If the answer is nothing, you are almost certainly shortchanging yourself.

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