As many people know, I’m not a big fan of “WOMEN!” centric networking events in the tech world. Some are good. But there’s a fine line between a support network and just plain old bitching that you didn’t get funded and blaming that on being a woman.
But when it comes to women-oriented tech education groups, that’s another matter. It takes the “Why aren’t more women in tech?” debate from the bullshit arena of “Raising awareness!” to actually trying to make a difference. When you take these programs to teach young inner-city women of color to code, then you’re doing something about the industry’s gender and race problems, an educational problem, and a societal problem all at once.
I was really excited to read that the Bay Area-based Black Girls Code is coming to my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee…which, oddly enough is the hometown of the group’s founder Kimberly Bryant as well. The vision of Black Girls Code is to encourage girls of color age seven through 17 to get interested in science, technology, engineering, and math through coding.
Not only do we live in a country that desperately needs more coders and a country where many people desperately need jobs and lack those skills, but we live in a world where the consumer Web has been overwhelmingly built by young white males. That has a subtle impact on the products we use everyday, because most consumer Web startups are built out of some personal need or desire. While the best Web companies tap into universal needs, theoretically greater diversity in founders means a greater diversity in the products that come to market. Greater diversity in who can code is a good thing no matter how you look at it: For an economically depressed city, for a challenged public education system, for a polarized job market, for the tech industry, and for users in the end.
I only read about this news, because my hometown newspaper cited a talk I did in Memphis while I was promoting my last book, where I said the most important thing the city could do to become more digitally relevant was teach coding in Memphis City Schools. I don’t know whether I’m sad that the impetus had to come from someone who’d already left Memphis or just grateful someone is doing something.
If you live in Memphis and read this blog, you should do whatever you can to support Bryant’s effort. This kind of stuff is way more important than wooing VCs to Memphis or bringing people like me in to speak for that matter. Build a base of talent building cool stuff, and money will show up.