Lauren Sato, CEO of Ada Developers Academy.
In recent months, big tech has dominated the headlines with sweeping layoffs that have left tech talent reeling. On top of macroeconomic forces, the industry is “sizing right” after over-investing in digital products during the pandemic. For companies that have struggled to compete for technical talent, this is a welcome change. There are now thousands of seasoned software engineers on the job market – plenty to choose from for the first time in years. But looking closer, is there a lot of “choice” – a variety of options?
No, and this is why. During the boom of technology over the past decade, the predominant strategy for diversifying our tech teams has been talent acquisition: bringing together gender and racial minorities into white, male-dominated teams. Through this strategy we have achieved 28% representation for women and 5% for black and Latina womenwhich is actually impressive considering that the output of our university systems for computer science graduates is equitable 18% women And less than 10% women of color. With talent acquisition ground to a halt and the market flooded with experienced, largely white male talent, it’s becoming difficult to envision a near future where gender and racial representation in technology don’t decline.
The AI magnifying glass
However, when this moment gets into our history books, it’s likely that this tech downsizing will be just a section in a chapter titled “The AI Revolution.” Huge cultural implications are being debated every day as large language models (LLMs) become more mainstream, more robust, faster and smarter, seemingly overnight.
However, for our purposes here, the main concern is the implications of these software development changes. Tools like GitHub’s Copilot now enable developers to dramatically increase productivity and output and, when layered with bug fix applications, create instances where individual developers can do the work that used to require multiple people, or even take their hands off the job completely. send send.
So we have a workforce whose diversity is frozen in time – and is likely to become less representative, given the recent flow of talent – that we are now enabling with tools that increase their impact, further reducing the need for new talent.
Why is this important? Does it matter? I believe this is a pivotal moment, with major implications for our collective future:
• What happens to the relevance of our tech products when they are increasingly developed by lesser, hyper-skilled people who are not representative of the consumer base of those products (70% to 80% of consumer decisions are made by women versus a 28% female software development staff)?
• How important does the AI tuning problem become when those closest to it all share the same blind spots because they share similar lived experiences?
• What will happen to the wealth gap, and with it our economic instability, in this country if the financial advantage of the technology industry is further concentrated on a small, privileged group of people?
Making a choice
If our industry had a good therapist right now, they’d say, “Let’s focus on where we have choice.” I think we have a choice to make here as a technology ecosystem: given these dramatic shifts in our industry, we can choose to continue on our current path and build a tech future with huge blind spots, which the exacerbating social and economic inequalities at a rate of change that is unprecedented and potentially irreversible.
Or we can choose to invest deeply in solving this problem now by building pathways together towards AI-assisted software development that works for gender and racial minorities.
If we choose the latter, we have a lot of work to do – and fast. I believe the first step is for business leaders to use more ways to future-proof their talent. Part of this is bringing in new talent from various pipelines. During your hiring process, make an active effort to seek out skilled individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Another part is making your current talent future-proof. If you already have a diverse workforce, give them the chance to acquire these AI-assisted skills, such as using and troubleshooting autocomplete and prompt engineering tools. Leaders should support the creation of educational pathways that help women and minorities adapt to the changing needs of the industry. Showing your support and demand for these efforts can also encourage much-needed public and private investors to help facilitate these transitions.
We really have an opportunity here to put women, gender-expansive and BIPOC people on an equal footing for once as we build a powerful ecosystem that both solves current problems and creates resilience for the future. The field of technology development is changing rapidly and we have the opportunity to ensure that this change is for the better; but we must work together to ensure that the future of technology strengthens our communities rather than increasing our inequalities.