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09 Nov 20:58

U.S. contributes 5 times more ocean plastic than previous estimates

14 Dec 01:18

Meet the Googlers making coding education more equitable

by Mary Jo MaddaDiversity + Education

Within the Education Equity team at Google, three women are changing the education landscape for the next generation of black and Latinx engineers—and I’m lucky enough to call them coworkers.  

April Alvarez, Peta-Gay Clarke and Bianca Okafor are part of my team at Google that’s leading two education initiatives: Code Next is a free computer science education program for black and Latinx high schoolers, and Tech Exchange is a semester-long program for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) where computer science majors immerse themselves in coding instruction on the Google campus in Mountain View. Both of these programs are part of Code with Google, our commitment focused on ensuring every student has access to the collaborative, coding, and technical skills that unlock opportunities in the classroom and beyond—no matter what their future goals may be. 

In the latest installment of The She Word, and in celebration of Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 9-15), we sat down with the ladies to discuss mentorship, the lack of diversity in tech and advice for young women of color looking to get into the coding space.

Why are the programs you work on described as “Education Equity"? 

April:When we design and develop programs for the Education Equity team, we start by acknowledging that advantages and barriers to success in education do exist, and that not all students have the same starting point. For example, when designing the Code Next program, we realized that access is a big barrier for Black and Latinx students interested in computer science, so we designed lab spaces that are proximate to where students live; we brought the labs to them. 

For Code Next and Tech Exchange, we focus on helping students cultivate their tech “social capital” (meaning their networks of connections) by bringing in folks who work in the tech industry and connecting them to one of our students through our mentorship programs. 

What are Code Next and Tech Exchange doing differently compared to other coding education programs in the space? 

Bianca: From the beginning, Tech Exchange has focused on providing an immersive and enriching experience both inside and outside of the classroom. The program takes a thoughtful approach to engaging the HBCU/HSI students with social and career development programming to further bolster and add meaning to their experience on Google's campus. We make an effort to expose students to a variety of community groups and product teams to broaden their perspective on opportunities available to them in the tech industry.  

Peta:With Code Next, we work with students from 9th-12th grade in a physical lab close to their homes and communities. These labs were intentionally built by Google and architects experienced in designing inspirational learning spaces. Our goal is to expose youth traditionally underrepresented in the tech industry to the wonderful world of computer science and give them the agency to immerse themselves into the areas that most interest them. We met our first cohort of students when they were in middle school, and they’re now applying to college! 

When you look at a Code Next student’s resume, you will see the impact of our program—they take computer science classes at a Code Next Lab, they work with a Google mentor, and they spend the last few years of high school immersing themselves in emerging tech like app development, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and more.

You all came from different industries to work in this space—April from K-12 schools, Peta from government and higher education, Bianca from her earlier years in Google’s R&D departments. How does that affect the work that you do together? 

April: First, it makes for a fun and interesting team to be a part of! Second, it allows us to make design decisions from multiple angles and perspectives. When I’m making decisions, I’m thinking about learning outcomes, the student experience and the educational pathway. Bianca and Peta do this as well, but they’re also able to chime in and share industry knowledge and experience, and then work this into the design of the program.

The tech space is working to improve diversity among its ranks. In your experience, what is one thing that could address that situation?

Peta: There isn’t one thing that will address the issue of underrepresentation in the tech industry.  Instead, there are a number of ways industry leaders can have impact. For starters, we can increase focus on collaboration and partnership within and across industries. We can improve education and understanding of how to foster a diverse and inclusive culture and more importantly, what it looks like in practice. We can broaden our understanding of the internal and external systems that lead to heterogeneous workforces, and better communicate the interventions needed for changing or dismantling those systems, to produce more equitable outcomes. Lastly, we can increase investment in finding and supporting the next generation of talent from underrepresented communities. 

It’s Computer Science Education Week! What’s one recommendation you have for young women of color who are interested in careers in coding?

Bianca: Mentorship is powerful. Seek out individuals who are doing the things you want to do. They can act as sounding boards and help support and motivate you. 

Lastly, what gets you up in the morning? Why do you do what you do?

Peta:It comes down to empathy. Initiatives like Code Next and Tech Exchange are near and dear to my heart. I am an engineer. I am where I am today because I was exposed to tech at an early age. I come from the same communities that we are trying to uplift.

Bianca: For me, it’s engaging with and supporting our students. I'm continually inspired and amazed by the level of talent, energy and enthusiasm our Tech Exchange students bring to the program and to Google. It's an honor to run a program that’s preparing the next generation of Black and Latinx technologists.  

April: Any time I get to see the direct impact of our programs, it motivates me to keep pushing and reassures me that all of this hard work is so worth it. In a lot of ways, I relate to our students and their educational experience, so it keeps me grounded in the work. I went to school with a lot of friends and family who hit barriers in their career paths, and being able to remove some of those barriers for a whole new generation of students will always keep me energized.

14 Jul 21:12

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Golden Age


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

That poor little box-shaped robot really really wants to make lunch.

Today's News:
10 Feb 04:32

D&I Soundbites

I went to a two-day “D&I workshop for leaders”. Many in biz will know what that stands for: Diversity and Inclusion. The people facilitating were WMFDP, which stands for “White Men as Full Diversity Partners”. Having said that, only one of the two was a white man, and the audience was more gender-diverse than the high-tech norm. Everyone was senior, there were lots of VPs in the room. It had a strong effect on me.


In the technology space, we suck at diversity. We’re broadly better than average at LGBTQ, probably not far off the mainstream at Under-Represented Minorities, and terrible at gender. Tech leadership is by and large aware of the problem, takes it seriously, and would be very happy if there were a lever they could pull to fix it. They are investing considerable energy, including a nontrivial amount of leadership time, a very scarce resource.


I’ve been trying for weeks to figure out my take on the workshop, turn it into a nice narrative with a story arc and Big Lessons. That hasn’t worked. But when I went back to review my notes I found a few really resonated. So what the hell, here are the ones I think worth reading. Draw your own conclusions.

Some of these are what the facilitators were saying. Some of them are quotes from other people. Some are me talking to myself. They start out pretty business-y but get personal.

  1. We were trying to close a $100M deal, and the customer wanted to see our D&I numbers, including diversity among our suppliers.

  2. In hiring, look for “Returnees”, people who’ve taken a break and want to come back to work. In practical terms, these are almost all women who’ve been doing family caregiving.

  3. Shortening the list of qualifications in job postings can be useful, because of men’s propensity to be aspirational in describing their qualifications.

  4. When we get women into the interview process, we hire them at the same rate as men. So we need to interview more.

  5. I am the tech business. I’ve had all the jobs, done all the things. If a diverse population doesn’t want to join it, I’m what they don’t want to join.

  6. If you look at the Fortune 500’s diversity programs, they’re basically all led by women. So we’re asking the outsider group to do all the work of fixing the discrimination against them. A few white guys running some of these things might not be a terrible thing. There’s a parallel with husbands who say they’re happy to help at home but ask their wives to do all the hard emotional/logistical work.

  7. The evidence of bias and anti-diversity prejudice is statistically overwhelming, no matter how many individual leaders deny having it.

  8. Men will remain indifferent unless they perceive they will benefit from D&I.

  9. In tech, the bias is present and measurable, but is rarely explicit or intentional, and the people who empirically must be responsible will hotly deny being part of the problem. (But maybe less so based on attendance at this exercise?)

  10. People don’t know how to talk about it. Talking about it is difficult, and that’s OK.

  11. Short meetings are a form of discrimination — shy people don’t get words in.

  12. This black guy in the sales organization, super senior and successful, says “I haven’t told anybody, but I’ve been keeping count, in meetings, of black people among the customers at my level. Still haven’t got to ten.”

  13. “Insider culture” — individualism — low tolerance for uncertainty — action vs reflection — rationality over emotion — time is linear and future-focused — status and rank win over correctness.

  14. The ultimate privilege is being listened to.

  15. When I mentor people, should I encourage them to be more like me?

  16. Who should be teaching about male privilege? Ideally not always women.

  17. Women say they have to do a lot more thinking before they get their clothes on and walk out the door.

  18. So disappointed at the times I’ve heard “I’m used to it.”

  19. Insiders are identified as individuals, not as members of a group.

  20. It’s totally reasonable for outsiders to see me as “just another white guy”.

  21. It’s not my fault but I’m responsible.

A conversation

In one of the exercises, we were in smallish groups and were asked: “Everyone look inside themselves and find a dimension along which you’re an outsider. Say a few words on what that is and how you feel about it.” Well… I came up empty, and said so. I’m white, male, live in the nation where I was born, straight, able-bodied, well-paid, lucky, and have mainstream tastes.

There was a short uneasy silence. Then this smart, polished, accomplished, person who unlike me is not an insider-on-every-axis looked me in the eye and said “So, why are you here?” The honest truth is I’m really freaking sick of spending all my time in rooms full of men, so I said that but it felt unsatisfactory. I looked for something deeper to say but came up empty.

My crazy idea

I think we in big tech companies should publicly face down our problems, starting with the worst ones. To start with, I’d like us to disclose the actual gender-diversity numbers in our engineering organizations and take a public goal of changing them, say by 5% over a couple of years, and then disclose the results.

Because here’s the thing: The people in the management ranks in big tech are, by and large, pretty smart and resourceful. Tell them they’re going to be judged on any given number, and they’ll figure out a way to move that number in the right direction.

“It’s not my fault but I’m responsible.”

17 Aug 23:12

A Woman in Eclipse: Maria Mitchell and the Great Solar Expedition of 1878

05 Aug 23:55

The World of Mikebots


Explore the less serious side of robot combat with these quirky battlebots made by Mike Z of Wedge Industries.

03 Aug 16:28

David Cameron will publish the financial details and viewing habits of all UK porn-watchers

by Cory Doctorow

That's not what he says, of course: he just says that all porn sites will have to gather and retain proof of identity (eg credit-card details) to ensure that their users are over 18 or they'll be blocked by the Great Firewall of Cameron -- but everything leaks.

Let's start by saying that this will be totally, absolutely ineffective at preventing kids from seeing porn. Never underestimate the power of a kid who is cash-poor and time-rich. The Chinese government has the power to harvest your organs and give them to party members if you mess with their Great Firewall, and they make all the networking equipment and they have the world's largest supply of talented network engineers -- and they can't even stop their residents from accessing hippie mystical tai-chi-plus-plus religious cult woo. We're talking about sex, here. We have a name for organisms that aren't obsessed with reproduction: extinct. David Cameron vs four billion years of evolution: I give long odds on the reigning champ. Like, four billion to one.

But this isn't just totally ineffective at preventing bad outcomes: it creates even worse problems. Censorware is like regexps for politicians: now you have two problems. Because everything leaks. I don't just mean these fools. I also mean these delightful fellows.

There is exactly one gold standard for not leaking user data: not gathering or retaining it in the first place.

So what do you get when you combine a database of the porn-viewing habits of everyone in the UK, cross-referenced with their credit-card details? Well, if you're presently worried that your cheating boss might be embezzling your company into the dirt to pay off his blackmailer, imagine that, on a national scale, only the blackmailers get to sort by net worth.

Nice one, Dave. More evidence that you're the tech PM the UK needs for the twenty-first century.

The top 10 most frequented pornography sites in the UK take 52% of traffic and have next to no controls. Government sources said “all provide free content upfront and none have robust age verification to protect under-18s in place at present, whilst DVDs containing explicit pornographic content are subject to age controls for purchase in licensed sex shops.”

The aim is to ensure that the rules that apply offline apply online, giving parents the peace of mind of knowing that their children can use the internet safely.

Cameron said his government was working “to make the internet a safer place for children, the next step in this campaign is to curb access to harmful pornographic content, which is currently far too widely available.

“I want to see age restrictions put into place or these websites will face being shut down.”

Cameron tells pornography websites to restrict access by children or face closure [Patrick Wintour/The Guardian]

13 Jul 22:25

Apple 1987 predictions of what 1997 would be like

by Rob Beschizza
appleThey got everything right! [via, via]
11 Apr 05:35

All Adobe Updates

ALERT: Some pending mandatory software updates require version 21.1.2 of the Oracle/Sun Java(tm) JDK(tm) Update Manager Runtime Environment Meta-Updater, which is not available for your platform.