Diversity in the Coding Pipeline

Reid Hoffman and Hadi Partovi of Code.org joined the Legacy community for a conversation on changing the trajectory of Silicon Valley by increasing diversity in the computer science pipeline. Harvey Mudd’s Maria Klawe opened and framed this important topic by stressing how this complex problem requires a systemic response.

Key takeaways from the conversation:

Scale for systemic change:

  • Putting on his philanthropist’s hat, Reid expressed that scale is what matters to him – how can an initiative affect entire human ecosystems?
  • The public-school system is not irreparably broken – there are things we can fix at scale to change kids’ lives
  • Starting an after-school club, or a whole new school, won’t scale to the 50M kids in public school
  • Get schools to teach computer science (which does scale) vs. directly teaching kids to code (which is harder to scale)
  • Biggest surprise to Hadi has been how public schools, and American teachers, have fully embraced this model and curriculum
  • Once there is grassroots support from teachers in a school district, take that interest to the school boards and superintendents – “Here are the metrics on program adoption from the teachers in your district, now let’s roll it out to the whole district”
  • Most success in small states where change can happen more quickly, BUT already 40 states have changed policy to support CS
  • Now 750K teachers on Code.org

CS as a liberal art and science:

  • “Computer Science is a liberal Art” – Steve Jobs, 1996
  • Coding as a communication language that is fundamental—highly connected to liberal arts focus
  • Other liberal arts courses, that teach important skills for leaders of the future, don’t need to be pushed out to make room for CS—can integrate these into multidisciplinary education
  • CS is one of the subjects that kids like to learn: Art #1, Performing Arts #2, Computer Science #3
  • CS curriculum must teach all aspects of computer savvy, not just programming: how not to get a virus, how the internet works, what a cookie is, what the cloud is, what compression and encryption mean, how cybersecurity works, what machine learning is and its impact on society…
  • Don’t begin curriculum with coding—those who don’t already know some programming will feel left behind—begin with other CS concepts so students gain confidence
  • Goal that every school should at least offer CS and every student should at least take some, but not every kid has to learn to code
  • In cases where a child’s parent doesn’t expose them to CS, and it isn’t taught in school, it’s unlikely that a child will be exposed to the associated economic opportunities it offers

Online curriculum for scale:

  • CS experts can make much higher salary working in tech, so it is difficult to incentivize experts to teach CS at K-12 or university level
  • Online curriculum lowers the bar for how much teachers need to know—inquiry-based models where students ask questions and work it out for themselves, teacher doesn’t have to be expert
  • Roughly 10% of all schools are embracing new CS programs every year

Incorporating diversity:

  • Attention to diversity must be woven throughout this subject: role models who represent people from all walks of life; classroom decorations that make all feel welcome; designing curriculum with content diversity in mind
  • Most important age seems to be middle school—peak of the bell curve and point at which girls typically drop out of STEM fields

As we gain more diversity in the pipeline, how can we create a corporate culture that retains diverse talent?

  • Most of the larger companies tend toward the right direction, but venture and early stage have badly held on to characteristics of the 1950s
  • Importance of unconscious bias training—opportunity for VCs to mandate this training from their portfolio companies
  • Blind test in reviewing resumes so as not to be impacted by assumptions around names
  • The Rooney Rule—interview diverse candidates, strongest ones you can find, even if that requires delaying the process
  • Can any category that is 90% male really be a meritocracy?

A complex problem requires everyone to engage:

  • Change for cultural diversity is complex; when communities become less homogeneous, ways of doing business must respond to support diversity and inclusion
  • Women and minorities will not change the world alone—if we are really going to make progress in diversity and inclusion, this must be something that everyone takes up
  • “If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”
  • At scale, this is a systems challenge—but what can you do every week to change this?