Lack of diversity at U.S. tech companies stifles innovation

Lack of diversity at U.S. tech companies stifles innovation

Horace C. White 

Modern Tokyo Times 

The US tech industry stifles innovation

To lots of millennials out there, the Internet was the best thing that ever happened to their generation. In truth, this makes perfect sense given the degree of transformation the interconnected computer network (otherwise known as the Internet) has brought in every facet of life. On the Internet, there is no shortage of things users can do. From footing bills to ordering items, sending messages to playing games, from learning to keeping in touch with loved ones; it’s a very long list of activities.

All these activities are conveniently done in microseconds. People and this transformational technology have become intertwined, so much so that separating them is impossible. A world without the Internet will just be unimaginable, don’t you think? Just like everything that everyday people use, the Internet has brought with it some downsides. However, its benefits – by countless times – outnumber the demerits. But what brought about the Internet revolution in the first place? Let’s put that into perspective.

Making sense of Internet history

Beyond question, the Internet the world enjoys today was as a result of concerted efforts by dozens of pioneering scientists, students, programmers, and engineers. These experts did their bit, resulting in the “information superhighway.” The network we all call the Internet today began to take shape in 1967 with the development of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). The ARPANET was a US Department of Defense (DoD)-funded project that enabled scores of university computers to connect in a single network through packet switching.

In the 1970s, in an effort to further develop the network, scientist Vinton Cerf together with Robert Kahn developed Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), a set of standards for communication within the network. While the quest to develop the network suffered some hitches, the drive to overcome them was unstoppable. As time went on, in 1990, another computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, invented the World Wide Web (WWW). WWW, which is a means for accessing the Internet, popularized the Internet. In fact, it was the key component that the Internet needed to hit the mainstream of global communication.

Prior to Internet development, the Russians launched Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite, in October 1957. In recent time, Russia has since advanced its space technology, launching a supposed satellite-monitoring aerial vehicle, Kosmos-2519. It was released into space on June 23, 2017. However, the US intelligence community has questioned the behavior of the satellite, stating that it runs contrary to what Russia told the world. In what appears as a response, on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to create United States Space Command. According to the memo issued to the Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, the US Space Command will serve as a functional Unified Combatant Command. This move will make the effort to control the orbit even more interesting.

Internet-enabled products and market forces

Back to internet technology, the Internet grew out of proportion to become the in-thing over time. So, companies would take advantage of the limitless opportunities of the Internet to roll out innovative products. Some internet-enabled tech products that dominated the market at a time were Sony Vaio, BlackBerry handheld devices, and IBM ThinkPad. No doubt, this list will certainly be incomplete without the mentions of Commodore, Atari, Compac, Gateway, Palm Pilot, Google Plus, and many others.

In truth, there’s no denying the fact that at some point these tech products defined the ethos in many corporate settings. Consequently, many of the tech tools supported businesses around the world to rake in thousands if not millions of dollars in revenue. However, something was underway. In the tech circus, change is not just a word; it’s an unstoppable phenomenon.

Learning about the huge potentials the industry offers, various tech companies launched their innovative tech products. As expected, the new products competed with the aforementioned ones. The competition to control market shares heightened among tech companies, leaving market forces to be the ultimate decider of “product fates.” As a result of fierce competition, most of the aforesaid products couldn’t withstand the heat. Hence, they honorably left the tech kitchen.

The United States charts the course

From the foregoing, today’s Internet was as a result of efforts of the United States government and her people. Obviously, the United States didn’t hand over the Internet to the world and hit the sack. No! US-based tech companies cashed in on Internet opportunities. Even to date, they still call the shots. Indeed, they dominated the Internet space. Progressively, Northern California’s San Francisco Bay Area, otherwise called Silicon Valley, became as popular as the Internet itself. Sure, it has become the headquarters of some of the world’s leading tech companies. Looking at some Wikipedia stats, Silicon Valley is the headquarters of 39 businesses of the Fortune 1000. Still, it accounts for 225,300 plum jobs in the United States. What’s more? Silicon Valley commands an average high-tech salary of $144,800, making it the highest average in the United States. Apart from Silicon Valley, other states in the US have also keyed into the enormous potentials of internet technology. Consequently, the entire country has become fertile ground for tech companies to flourish. While this is commendable, a negative trend has emerged.

Understanding the trend

Before unwrapping the crux of the matter, establishing this fact is critical. Let’s launch the subject with a quote by the former US president John F. Kennedy, “If we cannot set aside our differences, at least we have a duty to make the world safe for diversity.” Indeed, this is a wakeup call. The majority, leaving limited spaces for the minority, dominates the corporate world in the U.S. According to a Bloomberg report, Silicon Valley tech companies prioritize gender and race during job considerations. While this disparity has been a subject of criticism, these tech companies appear nonchalant. From all indications, they don’t give two hoots. To bring this widening gap to global attention, many experts have vehemently condemned the skewed job distribution in the strongest possible terms. Similarly, in its publication, leading tech news platform Mashables also observed this glaringly obvious disparity. Mashables reported that the majority controls the category of jobs the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) calls “high-tech jobs.”

Questioning the anomaly

At this juncture, it is important to expand this conversation as former president Kennedy has already set the ball rolling. Whatever happened to diversity? In all fairness, the minority hasn’t had a fair share in this tech largesse despite doing great things in the past. Looking at some examples, the works of Philip Emeagwali, a computer scientist who developed high-performance computer applications, are still fresh in our minds. How about Benjamin Banneker? For those who don’t know him, Banneker was an inventor who authored a successful series of almanacs. How about the Garret Morgans of this world? Well, Morgan was an American inventor who invented and patented his three-position traffic signals in 1923.

Living the American Dream

In truth, these above-mentioned inventors shaped the world in their times. And this goes to show that a diverse society can do so much when people are given equal opportunity. Undeniably, the world sees the United States as an egalitarian society, where people grow up to live the American dream. Sure, the American dream shouldn’t be a nightmare to the overwhelmed minority. The huge Internet opportunities have already set the stage, sending a strong signal that the world is the oyster for those who believe. Diversity must matter to the movers and shakers of the current US tech industry. So, everyone deserves a chance to showcase his or her individuality and creativity in the US tech space. Those who make things happen now must not be perceived as stifling innovation in a multiracial society. A word, to the wise, is enough.

Modern Tokyo News is part of the Modern Tokyo Times group

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