Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Think Different



“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.  The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward…while some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”





It was my first year at Accenture and I was in one of our typical all day all night war room tech/org design sessions. One of the senior managers in the room looked my way and asked, “Why do you wear a purple shirt like that? You know we’re not in Mexico right? Is it because you are going clubbing tonight?” I heard comments like this at Accenture throughout my six years there. As a Latino, the blue button-down, khaki pants, penny loafers look wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, I really wished it were! I bought the corporate uniform and tried it for a while.  I wanted to fit in. As the only Latino in the room 99% of the time, I wanted to blend in with the people I was working with. I just wasn’t very comfortable in my own skin when I dressed like they did. I decided I would just do me and hope for the best. This led to many comments about how I dressed or what I looked like. I had nicknames like “Jose” and “Pedro.” Almost every request from a manager ended with, “Mucha gracias,” when clearly this was their entire Spanish language library. It’s been like this for 20 years. Just a couple of months ago I was presenting at an event in Chicago answering a question about the future of schools. When I was done with my answer, the panelist next to me said, “wow, you are so articulate and well spoken.” I know he meant it as a compliment but what was he expecting? I am the Global Education Evangelist for Google. I am the face and voice for Google education. What could have been the level of expectation he had for me?


Although I don’t code, I've been involved in the tech space since 1995. At Accenture I was part of the organizational development team in the electronics and high tech industry group. I worked for organizations like American Express, Motorola, Seagate, Sun Microsystems, and so on. I spent two years at Charles Schwab, helping the leadership team reengineer their human resources operation. I believe over the last 20 years, I have spent more time in Silicon Valley/San Francisco than I’ve spent at home in Phoenix! Almost everyone in my professional network is in the tech space. I’m used to always being the only Latino in the room. I've spent the last nine years at Google, so it didn’t surprise me when I saw our diversity numbers – 3% Latino, 2% Black. I was proud of the team for releasing the information. Laszlo Bock and his team stood up and said, we have an issue and need to do many many things to solve it.  


Google of course is not alone. Only one in 14 technology folks in Silicon Valley is Black or Latino. In all, less than 5% of the teams at Google, Facebook, and Yahoo are Black or Latino. This extends into the management and future direction of these organizations. For example, I read a NY Times article highlighting that 11 of the 20 companies examined, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, and eBay, had no people of color on their Board of Directors. Out of the 189 board members across those 20 companies, only three were Black and one was Latino. I should say here if any of these companies would like to put me on their Board of Directors, I’m open to discussing it!  It’s also critical to point out that this isn’t just an issue with “old” tech companies (you know, Google is 16 years old and therefore a dinosaur.) Less than 2% of startup founders are Black or Latino.


These figures are a reflection of a larger issue when it comes to STEM fields – only 13% of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering degrees are held by Black or Latino workers (Cameron White, "Equity, Diversity & Edtech," July 21, 2014.) This is a somber statistic impacting us today and in the future. By 2020, the United States will have 1.4 million computer science jobs according to estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with only 400,000 computer scientists to fill them. That leaves a gaping hole in our economy! At the same time, by the year 2043, the United States will be a majority-minority country. My six-month-old daughter is in the generation that will be that majority-minority. In 2013, there was a higher percentage of Latino high school graduates enrolled in college than non-Latino whites.


We have a perfect storm of concerns heading our way. The need for diversity in technology is not an altruistic matter. We are talking real commerce here.  This is especially true in the Edtech space. Racial and ethnic minorities now make up the majority of students in K12. The need for intellectual and social diversity is critical. Not just in terms of ethnic diversity either. We need to increase the opportunities for those people of color near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Their voice is critical in the Edtech space when it comes to solutions for their community.


The companies that will have endurance are the ones who understand how diversity helps them stay relevant. Organizations that ignore diversity, or do not see the business value of it, are in danger of becoming irrelevant and out-of-touch. It also makes very good organizational sense. Many studies show organizations with both gender and ethnic diversity tend to be more creative and profitable. The key element is how multiple perspectives help these organizations design products and services that appeal to a cultural diverse audience.


While there are some very authentic concerns we need to tackle in the tech space, this is not a tech industry issue alone. The problem starts long before the tech job posting goes live. The problem spans the entire pipeline.


As reported in many publications last year (Liana Heitin, No Girls, Blacks, or Hispanics Take AP Computer Science Exam in Some States, Eleanor Barkhorn, Tech's Gender and Race Gap Starts in High School,) there were three states where not a single female student took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science. In eight states, no Latino students took it. And in 11 states, no Black students took the test. In 2013, 30,000 students took the AP exam for computer science and less than 20% of those students were female, about 8% were Latino, and 3% were Black. Even if we had an opportunity to increase the number of minorities in AP computer science classes, I don’t think we would be able to staff those AP classes with qualified CS teachers. I get it. If you are a struggling school, how much are you going to invest in computer science when you are dealing with bringing students up to level in math and reading? When you are using a shot glass to bail out the water from your underfunded school system that is quickly sinking, how much bandwidth do you have for computer science?


Besides, the problem doesn’t even start in high school. We know there is an 18-month academic gap between rich kids and poor kids by the time they get to kindergarten. Most of the poor kids happen to be minorities. These students, who make up 40% of the K12 population, are not only less likely to be prepared for kindergarten, they are less likely to graduate from high school, or attend a great college. They are less likely to graduate from college and when they are in college, they are less likely to study computer science or any STEM field for that matter (Cameron White, "Equity, Diversity & Edtech," July 21, 2014.) The statistic, which I wake up with every morning, is this:


If you are a high potential low-income minority in the US, you have a 9% chance of graduating from college. 45 years ago it was 6%. At this rate we will be at 15% by the year 2105.

- White House Report, Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students 

With these baffling facts, how would we ever manage to get high potential minorities into Google, Twitter, Yahoo, or any of the hundreds of tech start-ups?


We need to think differently about the whole pipeline, from what we do to make sure students of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds start their education on the right foot, to recruiting strategies at tech companies, to ensuring we create bias free cultures in all our organizations. Just increasing the number of Black and Latinos who get interviews at tech companies and startups isn’t enough, especially if nothing has been done to change organizational culture and bias.


Tech companies must demand an unbiased and inclusive workplace.  This can be done with professional development for individuals and teams. At the same time, tech companies can increase the diversity of the hiring pool by searching for real talent in various places and not just sticking to the same patterns they currently use. Tech companies can also make sure they are hiring more diverse workers in non-tech positions as well. In the long run, all of us in technology must invest in fixing the pipeline by getting involved early in the education effort.


In the Edtech space, start-ups can prioritize the recruitment of culturally and socioeconomically diverse folks to join the team. At the same time, these teams must be engaged with teachers and students, especially low-income minority students, to get their perspective and point of view on the problem they are trying to solve with their products or services (Cameron White, "Equity, Diversity & Edtech," July 21, 2014.)


At the education level, much needs to be done!


First, we need to teach our students real tech skills, building digital and technology leaders, not just consumers of technology. I’m not even talking about coding classes. I’m talking about teaching students to search, to vet, to make sense of information. You can start here with some great material from us!


Second, we need to build programing concepts (i.e., programing, design thinking, conceptual modeling) into our curriculum and in our options for after school activities. There are a growing group of organizations that are trying to address these issues through community based, technology enabled education programs (Cameron White, "Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Education," July 21, 2014.)


  • CS First provides free, easy-to-use computer science (CS) enrichment materials that target and engage a diverse student population.
  • Black Girls Code teaches young girls and pre-teens of color in-demand skills in technology and computer programming.
  • Science Genius leverages hip hop pedagogy to engage urban youth and educators in STEM exploration.
  • Hack the Hood connects youth to real-world consulting projects building websites for local businesses and nonprofits.
  • Qeyno Labs harnesses the interests of high potential youth from low-opportunity settings through radically inclusive hackathons.
  • Made with Code is an initiative designed to inspire millions of girls to experience the power of code.

Third, we need to provide as many opportunities as possible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to engage with computer science and other STEM fields. This area will require some outside the class thinking.

Finally, we cannot forget the most important stakeholder group - parents.  Parents play a critical role in creating the demands and expectations for our students. During the industrial revolution, it was easy for workers to move from the farm to the factory. This is not the case with the knowledge-based economy. A displaced manufacturing worker cannot move from that role to a system architect at a tech company. The knowledge, skills, and abilities required for this economy require a lifelong learning mentality. Parents need to understand this and demand that their children are learning what they need to learn to thrive in their future (and in my case, make sure my kids have a house I can move into when I am older.) Parents must drive the demand for building computer science/STEM skills and capabilities for their children. This is especially true in our poor communities. I think my mother still believes the only way I will ever be successful when I grow up is to be a lawyer. I want to see parents in these communities talk about how their kid is going to grow up and be a biomedical engineer, an architectural engineering manager, an information research scientist, or a information security analyst. When someone asks me if I want my kids to speak a second language (because you know, I speak Spanish,) I respond with, “yes, Python.” Now, I just need to figure out how to get every Latino parent in the country to answer the same way!

I am working on a project I'm really excited about. I am part of a team that is designing and building a new district high school in Phoenix focused on inquiry based learning, where students use coding as the language they speak and use in the pursuit of learning. I will talk more about this project when we get to the next stage! We are really trying to think different.

My kid William showing me his lines of code...


Post Note


I published a public draft outline of this blog post before I ran a session on the need for diversity in technology at SXSWedu. I got some great information, statistics, and feedback that I included in this post.

If you want to learn more about this topic there are some great resources out there, including these well thought out posts:



Friday, July 11, 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm



“Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week” Jay-Z 


As some have heard me say, I’m not a big fan of “impossible.”  I do not believe anything is impossible.  OK, maybe at 46 it might be impossible for me to ever dunk a basketball, but few things fall into that category.  When we discuss the achievement gap, I sense impossibility in what I read more than I sense what may be possible.  I hear experts talking about how it’s impossible to close the achievement gap.  I understand.  It seems daunting.  However, I have great disrespect for impossible and know for certain that closing the achievement gap is possible.  We just have to decide to do it.  Things aren’t going to get better on their own.  In fact, through inaction, they will continue to get worse.

A few months ago I read a intriguing article in the New York Times by David Brooks (The Opportunity Gap) about some major differences between how rich kids and poor kids are being raised.  At one point in the not so distant past, the differences weren’t as stark as they are today.  What I took away from the article is if we are serious about providing opportunities to children growing up in poverty, we are going to need a surge of early education solutions for both pre and after school programs in disadvantaged communities.  It is possible.

Just a few decades ago, there wasn’t a significant difference between how parents with college degrees and parents with high school degrees raised their children.  Today however, college educated parents are investing a lot more in their children’s education, especially in the early years, and of course, parents with high school degrees haven’t been able to keep up.  

I’m old enough to remember the concept that working class parents were more “fortunate” than white-collar parents when it came to family life because they were able to spend more time with their children.  I remember the notion that parents who were “blue collar” or “working class” had a family advantage.  In other words, they might not be rich, but they were able to spend more time with their kids. On the other hand, “white-collar” jobs came with a widely understood assumption that the responsibilities of those roles meant you would be sacrificing family time.  In fact, the data shows working class parents spent more time with their kids than those white-collar parents. 

Today, this concept is not only no longer true, it’s been dramatically reversed.  Today, college educated parents spend an hour more with their children than working class parents do, especially in the first three years of life, when it counts the most. 

Rich parents are not only spending more time with their kids, they are spending more money.  According to the Times article, over the last 40 years high income parents have increased the amount they spend on their kids’ enrichment activities, like tutoring and extra curricular activities, by $5,300 a year (adjusted for inflation.)  Low income parents, who obviously have a problem investing at the same level in their children, have been only been able to increase their extra expenditures by just $480 a year and if my own personal experience is an example, even that $480 is a immense sacrifice.  It usually means something else isn’t being purchased or paid for.

There is also evidence that in the early 70’s, kids from the bottom income bracket participated in almost the same number of activities as kids from the upper income bracket.  Today, it’s not even in the same ball park.  Rich kids are twice as likely to play sports after school.  They are much more likely to participate in non sport activities like theater, social clubs, yearbook team, volunteer programs, etc.  They are also more likely to attend religious services and participate in religious programs. 

The disadvantage can literally be heard.  Children in middle and upper class families hear an average of 15 million more words than children in working class families.  Children of families on welfare hear 30 million less words.  By the time a child is 4 years old, there is an 18-month to two year academic gap between a poor kid and a rich kid.

What we invest in early education will say a lot about how serious we are in trying to close the achievement gap.  I believe in education’s power to provide opportunities to our children living in poverty.  However, it gets a lot harder to make this a reality if children are coming into our schools so far behind.  

In order to make sure education disrupts poverty, we need a surge of services and programs to unlevel the playing field when and where it counts the most.  We need to start early in a child’s life.  We need to make sure kids aren’t coming to school already at a disadvantage.  This is a solvable problem, one which we must and can take action against.  It is possible to close the achievement gap.  We just have to decide if we are going to close it or not, and then own up to the decision we make.  Impossible is just justification for not taking the right action.



Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is this the most exciting time in education history?



"It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine."

-R.E.M.


The potential for innovation and new solutions to deliver education has never been so high.  Traditional learning models, like those many of us grew up with, are being transformed.  It seems every few months a new idea for learning is being introduced.  In just the last few years, we’ve seen examples such as, distance learning, blended learning, personalized learning, and flipped classroom models take off.  Many in the education world believe we’re just getting warmed up!  I am optimistic because the capabilities technology and the web deliver are creating powerful tools that will continue to advance and become more readily available to everyone. 

During this time of transformational innovation, it is critical we keep our focus on learning and not on technology.  We have to make sure we aren’t just automating education, and/or making it more efficient.  Turning a textbook into a etextbook or moving from delivering a lecture in a class to delivering a lecture on video are examples of what I mean. 

I am passionate about education because I know first hand that education can be the silver bullet for millions of children and their families living in poverty.  Education has the potential to break the cycle of poverty in just one generation.  I believe this because like countless others I’ve met throughout my journey, I am living proof.  

The worry I have is that the education I received isn’t suitable for the world we live in today and not nearly suitable for the world we are constructing.  It’s an absolute certainty that students are going to need more advanced skills.  For example, we often talk about collaboration and global competency skills.  Today, we can work with anyone, anywhere in the world but our schools are still treating students as individuals who must work alone.  What would you do if you were a teacher and two students walked up to the front of your class, handed you a test, and said, “We did this together!”  Why is collaboration cheating? 

We need to make sure their learning experiences provide them the relevance and engagement they need as they build the skills for the future. It’s more than just building digital citizenship skills; they need to become digital leaders. 

In order to make this a reality, we need to focus on three key areas.   

First, we need to make sure schools have adequate broadband access.  We would never run a school without lights or heat.  For many schools, Internet access is considered a “nice to have” commodity, not a necessity.  Yet our education system is preparing students for a world where the Internet is ingrained into higher education, business practices, and our daily lives in general, a world where many of the latest teaching tools run on the web.  

Second, we need to leverage the power and prevalence of the web as we create new learning models.  Most students nowadays are growing up with the understanding that the web is where they go to get the knowledge and resources they are looking for.  By recognizing that how we learned is different than the way our children learn, school leaders can take advantage of the habits this tech-literate generation have developed.  This became painfully clear to me when my daughter and I were buying her a ukulele when we visited Hawaii a couple of years ago.  As we were leaving the store, I noticed instruction books and DVDs on how to play the ukulele.  I asked my daughter if she wanted to pick some up so she can learn how to play (after all, that was how I learned).  She looked at me like there was something wrong with me.  Of course, she doesn’t need an instruction book or DVD.  She is going to learn by watching YouTube videos.  As educators, we are starting to understand the impact the web can have.  Videos, web applications, interactive content, and collective pools of knowledge make the world’s information accessible from multiple devices 24 hours a day seven days a week.  

Third, we have to put tools in the hands of teachers and students so that they can access the rich content of an ever-expanding web.  School administrators need to choose devices that not only give students and faculty access to that content, but that are also pain-free and easy to use.  The devices have to be near invisible so that the focus remains on the teaching and learning, not the technology.  What school leaders need is to think about is what happens when you go from having 30 computers in a classroom, to 30,000 in a school district.  How you scale and how you manage the technology is a critical part of planning how to integrate it into the curriculum.  Just as important, we have to let teachers develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to take advantage of these tools.  Today’s teachers are the ones who are going to create the new learning models we will use for generations to come!  Great professional development has never been so important.

This is an exhilarating time in education.  I know if we continue to be innovative and open to new ideas, education can be the silver bullet it was for me.  I am looking forward to watching the traditional model expand into engaging and relevant methods that will prepare our students to live in what is becoming the most stimulating and exhilarating time in history!