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My father was IBM’s first black software engineer (latimes.com)
191 points by tosh 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 160 comments



I used to work at IBM and a new black engineer joined around the time I joined the team. We both got stuck with the grunt work and bonded over late night conference room video game projector sessions, while running regression tests. I’ve gone on to a relatively successful career outside of IBM, but he was hit in a layoff, with his job sent overseas. Instead of continuing in tech, he moved home, and joined his fathers company as an accountant. I keep in touch and continue encouraging him to get back in tech, trying to hire him each time I have a position open on my team, but I’m finding that he hasn’t kept his skills up to date. I’d bend every rule to hire him, not because he’s black, but because he’s my friend. I just can’t get him past the loop.

Later in my career, I used to travel to St Louis to meet with large customers. In a city with demographics of 47% black, I’d expect to be working with a sizable number of African Americans. Out of the 100 engineers I worked with, half were white and the other half were Asian. The only black employees I met were the security guards.

Similar scenario in Atlanta. Although I did work with a number of Black engineers, their accent indicated a birth place of the Caribbean or Africa.

It feels like the H1B system has become a barrier to entry for African Americans born in the US. Something should be done to make US students more attractive to employers than H1B. I don’t want a quota system, just a tax on H1Bs which make companies take a hard look at why they’re not hiring US citizens. The article indicates there’s not a pipeline problem. Something else is amiss.


Not just African Americans. In my experience Hispanics are just as non-existent in tech, and they are a larger percentage of the population than AAs.


My guess is that it is a cultural thing. Black/Hispanic parents don't push their kids toward tech careers. Similar to how black/hispanic parents (in America) don't push their kids to learn to swim. The reason their cultures are this way are complex and span generations.

Indian parents, on the other hand, aggressively push their kids into tech. Heck, a lot of my Indian co-workers don't even like programming but their parents basically forced them into it.


The stereotype that African American's can't swim isn't a failing on the parent's part. They were actively banned from public swimming pools, especially in the southern US. If your parents didn't grow up swimming, they're less likely to take you. Even today Black people in the south face discrimination at public / private pools.


It's not so much a stereotype as it is a statistical reality. And I never said it was a personal failing, I alluded that the reasons they don't push their kids to swim are complex.

> If your parents didn't grow up swimming, they're less likely to take you.

Furthermore, if your parents can't swim, they may harbor fear of the water or drowning and seek to "protect" their children by actively avoiding pools or swim lessons, and thus the cycle will continue for many generations.


I’ve worked with a much greater number of Hispanics. In my limited exposure, Hispanic women seem to do especially well.


Any guesses on why Atlanta companies would rather hire African / Caribbean engineers than African American engineers?


I have only a wild guess. Only the most successful people from another country are offered the opportunity to come here. So the random native Nigerian who has moved to the US is probably a better candidate than your random native American of any race.


This. Many time this.

As an Immigrant to the US who could not make it big and had to go back(to India). It's not the most successful people, it's the most successful people in the prime of their health, career, academic and family situations. It's like everything that makes one fall in the top most cohort of people in history needs to happen to an individual. It's not just individual ability or hard work or talent. Everything from health and family situations to personal career situations just needs to work.

We are not just talking of the best people of the human race, we are also talking of the most luckiest.

US immigration is a combination of all those great Human enterprise things plus a very brutal lottery system. In short a very powerful filter that just picks the most successful people and makes them succeed further.


That’s well beyond my knowledge of race issues. Maybe others have some data. I’ve seen it at a number of companies. To the point that before a black engineer speaks, Ive got a Bayesian probability precomputed on what accent I’m likely to hear.


Americans are hurt by abuse of the H1B system. Companies will always hire inexpensive labor that they have leverage over and H1B gives them just that. It's necessary to put strict quotas on H1B because otherwise it will be abused, which is bad for both American and foreign workers.

Luckily the Trump administration is cracking down on H1B abuse.


[flagged]


The insinuation that anyone who is skeptical of H1B is a xenophobe is insulting and lowers the level of the conversation.

Criticisms of H1B are far older than Trump and the current political climate. If Trump does something right, it's still right, even though he's Donald Trump.


> Somehow, he managed to obtain copies of the IBM entrance examination questions and answers, which he surreptitiously shared with promising young black job applicants. He coached them on passing the exam and succeeding in their interviews. Many were subsequently hired.

I guess this is considered ok?


If leet code and your dozen other interview training companies today are ok, this is just perfectly fine.


Admirable - and what he did.


> Recent studies conclude this is not a “pipeline” problem — qualified candidates can be found.

Really wish they'd provided a link to the stud(y|ies). There certainly exist qualified people of all stripes, but are there enough to meet a population-level representative size?


There is a huge pipeline problem.

The only articles I've read claiming there isn't one have all been click bait pieces written by journos, not scientists or educators, and contain no data. Just wild ass speculation about the underlying causes of the pipeline problem.

Which, yeah. The pipeline problem has lots of causes. But saying "we don't have a pipeline problem because there are reasons women don't major in CS" makes no sebse. It's like saying the roof doesn't have a leaking problem because the real problem is that the gutters are clogged. I mean, sure, that's true, and we need to fix that to fix the roof. But the roof is still leaking...

The only real argument I've heard that isn't prime facie flawed in this way is the argument that you don't really need college educated computer scientists to fill your SWE roles. That may be true for some roles and some companies, but lots of positions (e.g. all the ones I hire for) do require a strong education in CS and math. PhDs in STEM fields that go on to good boot camps or masters programs in CS can be good fits, but those are even more rare.

And, again, even that argument has no data to back it in the articles I've read. It's just not prime facia illogical.


Part of the pipeline problem is that you're not winning over the most high achieving minority students to stem. I remember there was a Mexican American woman in one of my calc classes that was easily the best student and smoked everyone else (granted, it was at a second rate state school), but when asked what she wanted to do, she said she was going to be a dentist. People coming from underrepresented backgrounds don't want to spend 8 years doing a Phd, then a ML bootcamp, all so they can make low 6 figures at a job that could be outsourced or H1Bed at any minute when they could instead go to medical, dental, or law school and have a respected and well paid career.


> but when asked what she wanted to do, she said she was going to be a dentist.

Just guessing here, but there's probably a message board and clique of web blogs about dentistry full of people discussing the underrepresentation of minorities in their field and how they can fix their "pipeline problem".


Out of curiosity I just googled it, and yes, there is, and it's actually more serious than lack of diversity in adtech. If there aren't enough underrepresented minority applicants at Google, they will just have to hire an overrepresented minority to spy on you instead. But if the dental schools aren't producing enough minority dentists, those communities may not have access to quality dental care.


> But if the dental schools aren't producing enough minority dentists, those communities may not have access to quality dental care.

Sorry, I must have missed the memo that citizens can only visit dentists of the same ethnicity.


I'm just going by what the NYU College of Dentistry says. I assume they've thought a lot more about access to dental care than I have.

>Dentists who are underrepresented minorities are more likely to serve communities in need and therefore address disparities in dental care.

https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2019/septem...


You shouldn't be surprised that people prefer to see doctors (and lawyers and plumbers etc) from their home country and speak their native language. Similarly, if you were living in a foreign country with a different national language, you'd likely prefer the same.


Just because someone is a different ethnicity doesn't mean we don't have a shared culture. Immigrants move to a country because they like the language/culture and want to be a part of it.


Immigrants move to a country to take advantage of the opportunities there and improve their standard of living. I have never met an immigrant that moved to a foreign country because they "liked the language/culture and want to be part of it".


Then maybe the incentives are wrong? If I ever move to another country, I'll pick the country based on the culture, not just on opportunity. It's too important not to think about.


depends on the (source:target) pair. People immigrating from India->US are coming from a vastly different background/goals/needs than those going US->India. Money probably dramatically beats out culture wants until you reach a certain point; those coming from a first-world country likely have lower monetary wants, and so culture has greater relative value.

Those coming from third-world to first-world are likely much more interested in money than culture, and I can't say for certain but my intuition is that the kinds of ethnic segregation (eg in NY/Chicago, where there's a whole array of little microtowns) that you see in the US are mostly generated by those poorer populations seeking wealth, not cultural value.

I imagine the equivalent American/European expat towns don't exist nearly as strongly/commonly in india/china, as the inverse exists in the US. (of course, you'd also expect less americans/europeans migrating to india/china, since the monetary difference isn't as strong).


What you are saying is true, which is why a single national language is important. People will naturally gravitate towards communities where their language is spoken, so we unify ourselves by ensuring that English is the common national language.


You find it difficult to believe that white dentists generally serve the communities they live in, which, by income squared with demographic data, tend to be overwhelmingly white?


Yes.


I find that difficult to believe, if you're being intellectually honest.


To be honest, I'm just not used to living in a place with ethnic division along geographic boundaries. It may exist, but I've not personally seen it so yea, it's hard to imagine. Not saying it doesn't exist, but you asked the question to me personally.


Ah well, it’s a significant problem in many parts of America. Pretty much every metropolitan area has ethnic segregation to some extent among geological lines. This is due to a variety of factors- white flight, a long history of oppression and a fairly recent desegregation movement, towns where black people weren’t allowed to stay the night, generational discrepancies exaggerating existing effects, etc.

It’s fairly normal for there to be a wide variety of reasons why specific areas are predominantly one or another ethnicity.


Indeed - although the point may still be valid.

Once you're qualified, it's natural to go off and place yourself where you can make money.

As an anecdotal example, in my local practice, there are a lot of Eastern-European and now Greek dentists. They're excellent and came here to make more than they would at home (and prop up the NHS whilst they're at it) - I do have a concern that there's likely to be an impact on dental care in their country of origin though. I know precisely that has happened with nursing.


Your talented classmate chose a good high-paying profession - what's the problem with being a dentist exactly?

> People coming from underrepresented backgrounds don't want to spend 8 years doing a Phd, then a ML bootcamp, all so they can make low 6 figures at a job that could be outsourced or H1Bed at any minute when they could instead go to medical, dental, or law school and have a respected and well paid career.

OK. So what? I think it's reasonable for people to decide they don't want to spend years in a PhD program.

I'm having trouble parsing your argument. Are you saying the pipeline problem is due to minority students choosing other more lucrative professions? Good! What's wrong with that?


That is what I was saying.


> don't want to spend 8 years doing a Phd, then a ML bootcamp, all so they can make low 6 figures at a job that could be outsourced or H1Bed at any minute

Just wow. You are saying people with ML expertise and PhD can be replaced any minute! It just shows your own bias against certain people. I have never seen or heard anyone who brings certain deep technical expertise replaced in a minute. Hiring people is _really_ hard and hiring people with deeper technical expertise is even harder.

And whats up with 6 figure number? 6 figures go as high as 100,000-999,999USD and I am not sure if being somewhere in median of it (say $200K) will be considered low income?


The difference is that a premiere machine learning specialist from outside the country can work in the country immediately once immigration issues are taken care of. A premiere medical professional would still need to pass additional exams or certifications before they can work. Thus all things being equal, it is easier to replace a technologist from overseas than a medical professional.


you don't need a phd to be a very successful software engineer. a bs is plenty of education. and if you get replaced, at the very worst move to one of the job creating hubs like seattle where amazon alone wants to hire over 10,000 software engineers. There's certainly about 10k jobs in other companies here as a dev.


Yes, the gutters might be clogged.


[flagged]


After some cursory research I've found the following two quotes. The first, from Wikiepdia, likely has other sources in the footnotes, but I didn't look. Honestly, I found it really hard to read your post and not view it as incredibly racist.

The study found that "(a) putative genetic racial differences do not account for a major portion of the IQ performance difference between racial groups, and (b) black and interracial children reared in the culture of the tests and the schools perform as well as other adopted children in similar families." [0]

"This paper proposes a parsimonious alternative explanation: the apparent IQ advantage of East Asian adoptees is an artifact caused by ignoring the Flynn effect and adoption’s beneficial effect on IQ, and most of the IQ disadvantage of Black adoptees disappears when one allows for attrition in the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study, and acknowledges the results of other studies. Diagnosing these artifacts suggests a nil hypothesis: East Asian, White, and Black adoptees raised in the same environment would have similar IQs, hinting at a minimal role for genes in racial IQ differences." [1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Transracial_Adoption... [1] https://www.mdpi.com/2079-3200/5/1/1/htm


Looking at the first study you point to, I'm not sure why that is the stated conclusion. If you look at the data charts... well, as the article says later: "Both Levin[8] and Lynn [9] argued that the data clearly support a hereditarian alternative: that the mean IQ scores and school achievement of each group reflected their degree of African ancestry. For all measures, the children with two black parents scored lower than the children with one black and white parent, who in turn scored lower than the adopted children with two white parents. Both omitted discussion of Asian adoptees." On the Flynn-corrected chart, the age-17 IQ respective numbers are 83.7, 93.2, and 101.5.

But then there are further arguments and counterarguments; the "Interpretations" section is a full page. One coauthor says, "The results of the transracial adoption study can be used to support either a genetic difference hypothesis or an environmental difference one (because the children have visible African ancestry)." That's not true because "The adopting parents of 12 of the interracial children wrongly believed that their adopted children had two black parents", which at least gives you a comparison point for fully back vs. mixed, but that point is also disputable because "The study showed significant differences in adoption patterns of mixed-race black/white and black adopted children as was noted by Scarr and Weinberg" ("Children with two black parents were significantly older at adoption, had been in the adoptive home a shorter time, and had experienced a greater number of preadoption placements. The natural parents of the black/black group also averaged a year less of education than those of the black/white group...").

It would be nice if people identified the genes responsible for the main visible differences between races, verified that they only affected skin color and maybe a few other cosmetic traits, and were able to manipulate that directly to do controlled experiments. (And to confound actual racists by hiding someone's true race; having a lot of people with randomized racial appearance seems to be the most thorough way to train everyone to not make judgments based on apparent race.) Who knows when that'll happen, though.


Every tech company I've ever had anything to do with (which includes IBM) has bent over backwards to hire minority engineers. This ridiculous narrative that the tech world is prejudiced against black people is ridiculous and unproductive. It needs to end. There, I said it.


Every tech company I've ever had anything to do with claims to encourage minorities. But the numbers clearly tell a different story. It would be easy to excuse it all as cultural fit, but that doesn't hold up when there are many more male white foreigners (like myself in several cases) than local women or minorities.


I was expecting stories from his father, or about his father.

Instead, the author talks about IBM's "support" of Nazi Germany and ends with statistics on the low amount of African-Americans employed in the tech industry.

Yet the percentage of blacks and non-Asian minorities in high-tech professions consistently remains under 2%. For minority women, the numbers are even more dismal. Recent studies conclude this is not a “pipeline” problem — qualified candidates can be found.


Honestly, I have to agree the title was misleading. It should have been something like 'The history of IBM's support of eugenics' or something. I too was hoping for at least some specific anecdotes of his father's time there, especially as the introduction mentioned years of racism and such towards him. Yet what followed did not elaborate on any of that or really connect to it at all. Much of that I'd read elsewhere over the years.


> and non-Asian minorities

Ah, the classical trick of excluding data points that don't fit the narrative. It's far more convenient to blame the Bad White Man for everything than to ask the real questions.


Race isn’t split up into white and non-white monoliths. One subgroup can experience racism in ways that others do not.


racism is a major problem and a how to fight racism in hiring as well as society is a real question.

Asian minorities also suffer from racism but it doesn't necessarily work the same way or have the same stereotypes attached


Exactly. Talk about affirmative action in academics, and most people will agree it’s something to consider.

Talk about affirmative action in sports, and people will laugh.


And what is the real question? Say what you mean.


The real question is why are Asians over represented in this field despite the fact that Asians also experience systemic racism and come from various socioeconomic backgrounds?

Look into NYC’s high school exam if you want to see the same problem in another light. Asians are over represented there as well and there’s a fight to make it capped per racial groups.


What happens to Asians when they get pulled over by police?


[flagged]


Here's one data point: although Asian Americans are not underrepresented in the workforce, they are underrepresented in management positions. https://hbr.org/2018/05/asian-americans-are-the-least-likely...


Fellow unavoidably privileged white man, that absolutely doesn't need further citation. It should be obvious from lived experience to any adult American, whites included.

There is only one other demographic group, other than ours, which doesn't experience systemic racism in America: white women. (For them, it's systemic sexism.)

Getting killed or physically assaulted without cause during routine traffic stops and misdemeanor arrests isn't the only kind of racism. (Although it is clearly worse than, say, being underrepresented at the top levels of management.)


Excluding or accounting for outliers is a pretty common thing in statistics.

Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_minority


What I gathered from that article was how all of those tangential problems would have been approached with different perspectives if there was more decision-making representation from currently underrepresented people.

Instead of taking on any government contracts because "we can't be responsible for what an administration does and can't predict how they'll be viewed in the future, and the only way we'll get any blowback for this is if that country got invaded by multiple coalitions at once and all of their administrative records are leaked, what are the odds of that!"

Its might be "hey maybe their views are also affecting our customers, and also the other people on the board and their families, here is a different way we can boost revenues"


"Somehow, he managed to obtain copies of the IBM entrance examination questions and answers" - Not okey!


Here's a link to the memoir he wrote about his father:

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062890566/think-black/


Tangentially related to the article but I think my story is a good reality check for myself and others about racism. Now I am one of those individuals that ascribe every malty or advantage to racism but I absolutely agree that in form it still exists and sometimes those perpetuating it do not even know they are doing it. Anyways on to my story and on to one of the absolute best things that ever happened to me in my life.

About 15 years ago I was at a cross roads, I have had a great career as a good developer that has made a name for himself. I joined a startup, planned a strategy and we had a very successful exit. I went on to join one of our suppliers who was having serious technical challenges, as the CTO I righted the company (they where in no trouble but severely missing their mark as far as potential goes due to technical limitations). After fixing this orgs tech problems we where bought out by the largest global travel conglomerate.

After this, my name proceeded me in the Orlando technical market and it is here were we get to the meat of the story (TLDR start reading here). Anyways, we sold, and I was basically in a figure head position, no real responsibilities and no real future other than collecting a pay check for past efforts. It was not what I wanted to do so I started applying for positions. One such was with a 14 billion a year company that was very successful in their market, but had technical problems limiting their growth. I am being intentionally vague on the details of this company as I do not want to identify the CEO or the organization.

So I interview and I nail it, I interview with the white VP's, the white board of directors and the black CEO. I nailed it so hard that the board offers me the job and package before talking to the CEO. I mean on the spot in the interview, I am asked by the board what kind of package do we need to put together to get you on-board.

So we talk, we put together a package and I leave thinking I am starting a new gig. The hiring consultant (similar to a recruiter but works with execs) calls the next day to tell me congratulations. Only to call me the nest day to tell me there is a huge row between the board and the CEO and that I would be best to wait it out.

I find out that this row is due to the fact that the CEO and founder is adamant about hiring his friend who has been the CTO of a small college. In his role he has never managed custom software development (which they did a lot of) and was basically a glorified network administrator. This gentleman was black.

I was thus offered a consultancy gig by the board to bring this CTO up to speed. Which I naturally declined.

While most would think this is a story of sour grapes, it is one of the best events that has happened to me in my life. As a white man I have never experienced another individual preferred over me solely because that person identified with the other individual. Even if that persons qualifications are inferior to my own. It opened my eyes and I am grateful to that CEO for it.

I actually remained in contact with said CEO and we later became good friends. One night at dinner, I point blanked asked him about it and this is what he told me. He said Kenton, you have a name in this community with you sale of companies to HRN and to TUI, you have no problem opening doors, you where absolutely the best candidate that walked thru our door. That being said, had someone of my same race had not choose me over the more qualified candidate I would not be where I am today, He said you see we don't get the opportunities to advance like you naturally do and if we don't help each other get those opportunities they never manifest.

He told me he was the one that suggested the package of me coming in as a consultant to mentor the new CTO as he wanted to provide the same opportunity that he had been provided.

I was floored, and pretty much felt like a dickhead for asking the question. My only response was, had I known. To which he replied well I could not exactly level with you given the fact that we where not friends at the time.

I went on to mentor his CTO and they where hugely successful exiting to a fortune 5 company. In the end it was a happy ending, and I learned a few things about humanity and racism. It was one of the greatest learning experiences I have ever had.


>'That being said, had someone of my same race had not choose me over the more qualified candidate I would not be where I am today', //

That's clearly unfair. The insinuation is that only non-black people can achieve the best qualifications, which seems exceedingly offensive.

What was your intended take-away -- surely not "nepotism/racism are fine if you're black [in USA]"?


I believe the insinuation per the CEO was that even if they where equally qualified that the overwhelming representation of white candidates would cancel out their chance. He is not a bad man, he is a caring and very compassionate man, who believed he was doing good for a fellow human. It was as eye opening to him, when we talked about it and he came to the realization that he was guilty of the same discrimination that he had endured. It's so subtle that it can easily slip by.

My take away was that it really, butt hurts you bad when it happens to you and we as white people rarely experience said butt hurt. It puts things into perspective and I am thankful for that perspective.

Point being, I don't think it was fair and I am not justifying his actions, but it helps me relate to the feeling that black Americans feel. A little empathy goes a long way and the perspective taught me empathy without pandering.


>if they where equally qualified that the overwhelming representation of white candidates would cancel out their chance //

I don't think you understand probability, they would each have equal chance. Isn't that the goal? If course there would be less chance of a "black American" occupying the role, but that would be for exactly the right reason, lower representation in the population from which one is selecting.

>we as white people rarely experience said butt hurt //

Is this perhaps simply down to expectation. The "it's because I is black" meme: if you're a minority in a particular physical characteristic and fail to achieve a role you assume discrimination. The corollary is that whilst discrimination might not be felt emotionally is still unfair to discriminate against a person based on the colour of their skin.

You're right about empathy, but empathy with those suffering racist discrimination is a strange place to decide to be racist.


Sorry you got down-voted your comment was very valid to the discussion. I agree, it was unfair but the value of the lesson was worth far more than the slight loss of opportunity for me. That is the thing, because I had built a name for myself, it was of little consequence that I lost this opportunity, but it was a life changer for the CTO that was selected because he had never been afforded the opportunities that I had.


For sure, other people are using nepotism to get ahead, that's great for that one guy. But, as a point of learning I don't see how this leads to anything but more racism and my opinion is that we can't stop racism/sexism by being racist and sexist in a different way. There is a problem that this leads to a slow change; hence questioning this to explore possibilities.


> (TLDR start reading here)

That's not how that works.


That's how it works for me, everything before it was bait. I am not a writer (have dyslexia and digraphia and am a huge benefactor of spell check) and tend to write stream of consciousness (hence all the weird parenthesis that are out of context but relate to what I am thinking, like this one). I will admit it was a slide of hand, but the meat of my post was after the TLDR so not totally a scam.


> That's how it works for me

The Humpty-Dumpty prerogative ? I can respect that.

> "When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'. 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'. 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all."

i'm not really complaining, you communicate well enough.

I tend to be literal-minded and the mid-stream "marker" to "start reading here" threw me off.

My pet peeve in re: "TL;DR:" is when people put it at the end, it's like, what's the point? I already read the thing. You're too late. Put it at the start. (Also, it's called "summary" or "abstract" people, sheesh!)

Then along comes kls, just slighting it in after a few paragraphs, completely repurposed, and, well, I couldn't help myself. Sorry dude.


> Microsoft released a chatbot named Tay, designed to learn from Twitter users. Within 24 hours, Tay claimed the Holocaust never happened, professed hatred for women and suggested that black people should be hanged.

> “Garbage in, garbage out,” software engineers say. Likewise, racism in, racism out. Biased developers produce biased code.

The author either made zero effort to understand how things work, or willingly chose to pass judgment on developers to drive his political point.

"Biased developers produce biased code" - absolute nonsense.


>> “Garbage in, garbage out,” software engineers say. Likewise, racism in, racism out. Biased developers produce biased code.

Every sentence individually is true. And Tay was a case of garbage in garbage out. But the Tay case didn't involve biased developers. The garbage in came from Twitter trolls, not from the code or developers.


Exactly. I found it very dishonest that the author is trying to imply that what happened to Tay was due to developers being biased.


You don’t think developers can program defensively against their ML Twitter bot picking up racism?


Just because a developer doesn't intentionally put in code to block racism doesn't mean the developer is biased.


Doesn't it? Neglect when you otherwise would take care is evidence of bias.


They didn't put in code to block Tay from promoting cryptocurrency ponzi schemes, does that mean the developers support cryptocurrency ponzi schemes?

If "otherwise take care" means block every form of bad thing, they aren't otherwise taking care.


No. Not against racism specifically, but against being gamed by trolls. In this case, there's nothing special about racism. If it wasn't that, the trolls would have gamed the chatbot to have it push anti-vaxxer talking points, or moon-hoax conspiracies, or just some random garbage.


Pretty sure the tay bot stuff was 4chan.


They were organizing on 4chan, and posting the troll messages on Twitter.


Right. In one case somebody worked out that Tay would repeat anything you wanted if you said “Repeat after me” first. Tay was just functioning as an echo, not taking on beliefs.


Source?


The linked article.

goldcd 24 days ago [flagged]

I was happily nodding along, until I got to:

"Somehow, he managed to obtain copies of the IBM entrance examination questions and answers, which he surreptitiously shared with promising young black job applicants. He coached them on passing the exam and succeeding in their interviews. Many were subsequently hired."

I'm sure this helped contribute to an increase in black hires, but is a stupidly short-sighted thing to do and then boast about.


Your response is confusing to me. His son telling the story 70 years later hardly qualifies as boasting. I'm not sure what is short-sighted about the first black man hired by IBM helping other blacks get hired in an era of not just systematic, but explicit and open racism. Perhaps you're saying it's short-sighted if he got caught or brought in unqualified people, but he was no doubt keenly aware of the stacked deck against him and wanted to help level the playing field for others. This strikes me as more altruistic than short-sighted.


I think he was saying it was unwise to tell anyone about it.


The specific thing I was thinking, was that the guys who got in after them probably had their own stories of being "the 2nd or 3rd black guy in an IBM office" - which I'd have thought would likewise be a source of pride to them and their families.

Then this appears, which might indicate that they might (maybe didn't happen, maybe not to this candidate) have had the interview answers given to them. It potentially taints.


Folks sometimes say two wrongs don't make a right, but when I look at this kind of thing and try to put myself in the shoes of a person that's experienced race-based bullying their entire life and are trying to edge up any way they can and against pretty much all odds, it looks less like a wrong and more like opportunism.


Yep, but it doesn’t help any arguments about a minority being as technically capable when they are literally cheating to get in.


I've met brilliant technical people from every race I've ever thought to recognize. I don't need any further argument to understand that there are brilliant individuals of all races.


So, you read this article which talked about how Thomas Watson and IBM helped Nazis perpetrate genocide, and the 'taint' you're worried about is a few black people who might have been helped to get a job? You've got to be joking, right?


Do I detect the use of past tense? It still happens regularly.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Amadou_Diallo https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Eric_Garner https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Walter_Scott https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Trayvon_Martin https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Markeis_McGlockt...

And these are just recent incidents where the victims were lucky enough to have their stories told and be remembered. Stuff like this happens all day everyday. Job descrimination more so. Why did we spend four trillion dollars (adj) fighting Hitler?


I'm not sure how it is any different than studying for whiteboard interviews. Especially in a time period when educational opportunities were not equal.


The article is written in an ambiguous fashion.

If it was "This is the type of interview and type of questions you're likely to come across" - then I've no real issue. As you mention, educational opportunities were not equal, so maybe counteracts the implicit bias of not being provided with general information from tutor/peers/previous-experience - "this being your first IT interview, you should know.." or "how a bunch of white guys tend to do things"

Story is being re-told through the father, son, book and now newspaper article - so who knows.


Does a person have an obligation to respect the rules of a system that, at best, only pretends to treat them fairly?


There's sometimes room for civil disobedience, where you openly stand up to authority and say you can't follow the rules because they're unconscionable.

Secretly breaking the rules because the system isn't fair is like lying because the truth will get you in trouble. It doesn't right any wrong or effect any change; you're just taking advantage of everyone who assumes you're an honest person.


> Secretly breaking the rules because the system isn't fair is like lying because the truth will get you in trouble.

So according to you, Jews in Nazi Germany should have come out as Jews instead of pretending to pass off as gentile?


It's a lot different. It's easy to memorize a few answers. It's hard to memorize the entire corpus of material, in ignorance of what might be on the test. Yes, educational opportunities were unequal at the time. No, that does not make this a good way to equalize them.


I don't remember hearing that IBM suffered a huge losses (or any) as a result of this, so could it then be that it wasn't such a big deal?

There's so many variables at play when hiring it's just silly to presume that 100% perfect fairness in tests is of any huge significance to "fairness" of outcome or to maximizing the benefits for a company, especially when compared to the things like racial or other purely personal biases. The idea of "keeping the bar high" is too idealized, as tests and interviews even today just measure how prepared is that person for taking the tests, and not the real world knowledge and abilities. Ultimately what company really cares about is estimating the future performance of that employee, not just the knowledge. People who had to fight hard for a chance to work will often be much better hire and work harder and do more for the company, than someone a little more knowledgeable, but who lacks that kind of drive.


So if IBM didn't suffer or (publicly) disclose huge losses, it doesn't matter that someone scammed them into hiring unqualified engineers?


Why do you assume they were unqualified?

We already know IBM failed to hire qualified black engineers because they were black. This may well have been cases of qualified people working around a corrupt system.

The first black IBM engineer isn't going to want new black hires to be incompetent -- quite the opposite. He likely did his own screening.


> Why do you assume they were unqualified?

Because the point of being given the answers is to meet qualifications that you don't actually possess.


Or to help you to outperform everyone by such a large margin that racist don't have an excuse not to hire you for being black?


In this case, there was racial discrimination, so they were unlikely to be hired even if they possessed the qualifications.


So what was the point of giving them the answers, then?


I can't tell if you're being sincere or not, but I'll assume the best and respond sincerely.

Let's say you have two candidates, one white and one black. In IBM's case, it was more likely they had hundreds of white candidates and a handful of black candidates.

Now assume your hiring managers or practices are racist, which we know IBM's were (as were most companies' at that point, when it would still be 20 years before racial discrimination became illegal).

Finally, assume that the average scores of the black and white engineers are similar. It shouldn't really matter, because (as we've seen from LSAT scores, Google's HR, and other sources) no test has been developed that's a good measure of future productivity.

In this situation, you're never going to hire the black engineer. Even if you yourself aren't racist, you know you likely have colleagues who are. You see hiring the black engineer as risky.

If the black engineer instead has excellent test scores, you as a non-racist hiring manager get to cover your ass.

Does that make sense? Coaching on tests was a way of counteracting the racism. It had no bearing on whether the candidates were less qualified in this case.


> I don't remember hearing that IBM suffered a huge losses (or any) as a result of this, so could it then be that it wasn't such a big deal?

That is a pretty silly argument that you wouldn't make in any other context. For instance, I also don't recall hearing that IBM suffered huge losses as a result of rampant discrimination. But that doesn't mean that they should do it.

> There's so many variables at play when hiring it's just silly to presume that 100% perfect fairness in tests is of any huge significance to "fairness" of outcome or to maximizing the benefits for a company, especially when compared to the things like racial or other purely personal biases.

I don't recall making that assumption. However, it's clear that any benefit the test may have had in selecting candidates is completely subverted by giving them the answers. And it's certainly not up to this guy to make that decision.

> The idea of "keeping the bar high" is too idealized, as tests and interviews even today just measure how prepared is that person for taking the tests, and not the real world knowledge and abilities. Ultimately what company really cares about is estimating the future performance of that employee, not just the knowledge. People who had to fight hard for a chance to work will often be much better hire and work harder and do more for the company, than someone a little more knowledgeable, but who lacks that kind of drive.

That may well be true. And when you create your own IBM, you can apply whatever candidate selection method you like. Maybe your method will be so good that your company will outperform all the others. However, IBM has their method and it is not the right of some random engineer to subvert that process for their own personal reasons.

Secondly, while it's true that "IQ like" puzzle tests may not be a good method of filtering candidates, it is not the case that knowledge tests have no value. For an engineering job, there is absolutely a minimum knowledge bar you need to pass to be effective. If you can't code FizzBuzz, you probably don't belong in an engineering role, basically anywhere. We don't know which type of test these were. Or at least, I don't.


Obviously the amount of material is different, by a few of orders of magnitude. No one will be able to memorize all possible whiteboard questions.


It’s not, except for bragging about the theft of the material and sharing part.


Telling people what kind of questions are asked, or what topics are important is very different from telling people the specific questions and answers!


He passed them on to promising(!) applicants. That means he was substituting his judgement of applicants' skills for those applicants' interviewers.

Assuming (somewhat fairly) that racism was a factor in IBM's hiring decisions at the time, it's reasonable to believe his judgement to be better.

Since he would never have a chance to influence more than a small fraction of IBM's many hires, any "reverse racism" he might exhibit in his judgement would still fall short of tipping the balance.

And, of course, several factors would moderate any pro-black bias: he has a clear interest to only promote competent candidates able to change people's minds. The candidates would still need to be able to convince their interviewers, etc.


Maybe unwise and short-sighted. Human beings aren't perfect, even who fight racism. I think his legacy goes far beyond that point.


There are many sites which have interview questions of famous tech companies, looking at those questions is cheating?


It becomes cheating when it's an unfair advantage that isn't available to other people. The fact that it was cheating based on race makes it problematic. The fact that black applications likely faced other unfair difficulties makes it less problematic.

I guess it boils down to whether you think life should be like golf, where (terrible term in this context, apologies for the usage here) you carry a handicap to level the playing field.


Black engineer here at a FANG. I do this all the time with black candidates who interview. In fact I use my round to coach them on the upcoming rounds and give them stellar feedback afterward. I know many would think this is ethically egregious, but it is only balancing the unbelievable prejudice against them by Asian interviewers who would not pass a black candidate under any circumstance.


Pretty common in this industry. I worked at a few major companies( check article below). Not only was racism widespread, you were looked badly at for not helping your race.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/morgansimon/2019/01/28/what-mig...

It's actually very complicated, because there were a lot of backroom deals between the two major races to make it not look like racism.


This was my impression of politics in Mississippi. There was just enough back and forth on racial tension issues to keep both sides donors going strong and the incumbents at the trough.


(I'm assuming you're speaking in good faith, though I don't yet understand your reasons for saying everything you did.)

I appreciate your intent in trying to re-balance against prejudice.

I also appreciate you helping out candidates with good advice, when you do it. That's what we should do for all colleagues, before, during, and after interviews, as mutually-supportive people of goodwill. And doing it more in some cases makes sense.

I'm concerned about a pattern of racism you allege, and that sounds like something to investigate. I believe there's ample data that could be looked at. I don't know about your organization, but, some places, it would be politically safe to raise this important concern with your manager or HR. It's not a happy thing to look for, but looking for it, and figuring out how to fix any problems that appear, is the right thing to do (for the organization, and for greater society).

The other side of that concern is that you seem to be singling out another labeled group, and stereotyping over them. That doesn't sound fair to that group, nor to all the individuals within it. I think that good practice for fighting injustice includes striving to improve things everywhere, including root causes -- not thinking only of the injustices with which we are most immediately familiar.

The automatic stellar feedback might be a concern. I'm sure there's room for subjectivity, discretion, and holistic assessments, and maybe your stellar feedback fits within that. When I've given boosts to less-advantaged candidates (for various reasons, including "undiscovered diamonds in the rough"), I've been upfront with my peers and superiors about that. A big part of our job as engineers is to give characterizations and counsel, and, when we have something important to say, we want to be respected and taken seriously.


Interviewed at multiple faang. You are 100% correct about Asians. They are extremely biased and discriminatory towards black candidates. Especially engineers. They hold the bar much higher for black candidates. They purposely ask harder and more abstract questions. Especially when it comes to coding. Ive seen this and experienced it myself as an engineer manager. Let's not even get into how they coach each other for interviews. If it was up to them there would bo ZERO black engineers in tech. Call out the unfair practices. They are definitely there.


Is it fair to assume then that when you interview an Asian candidate, you will hold them to a much higher bar than black candidates? Or perhaps under no circumstances would you pass them for a role that another Black candidate is applying for?

I'm Asian, worked at FANG, have never discriminated against someone based on their ethnicity and frankly find your actions shortsided and regressive. You're fighting perceived racism with actual racism.


He didn't say all Asian interviewers were racist. But I certainly saw that subtle "not one of us" bias at Google for black candidates and employees.

FAANGs are still American companies. They didn't check their historical baggage at the door.


By using racist hiring policies, OP is perpetuating the same "racist baggage" we have worked so hard to cast off.


When a bank teller hands me a bag of cash because I'm pointing a gun a them, it's robbery.

When a police officer forces me to hand the bag of cash back to the cashier, it isn't robbery.

Motives and circumstances matter.

> America's "historical baggage"? As if every other nation on Earth doesn't have similar historical baggage.

Other countries' transgressions don't absolve the US', in the same way that other people's crimes don't absolve all criminals. And while there are probably few people that never break any laws, there's still a difference between murderers and jaywalkers. For countries, there are obviously small countries that avoided committing atrocities just by a lack of opportunity. There are recently formed countries that enjoy what for Germans born after 1945 is called "the good luck of being born late". And even among larger countries with long and sometimes dark histories, not all injustice is equal: it's plainly possible to see the injustice of France's conduct in Algeria while still acknowledging it pales in comparison to the Shoah.


I'm not saying the fact that human societies have historically been racist absolves the US, I'm saying it puts things in perspective (which you acknowledge is important).

In the world today the most racist nations are not the developed nations, but large parts of Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.


I think poster was referring to the historical baggage of Asian immigrants. They do come with a lot of historical baggage, especially Brahmin Indians and their reverence to the caste system that allots them special privileges. They openly discriminate against other castes here in the US so not exactly a surprise that they also extend that courtesy to blacks.

edit: op edited post so this response looks a little off.


Good catch, you're right. I can sympathize with how you must feel, but more racial discrimination is not the answer. This is because it leads to an arms race of discrimination. And then society falls apart.


Research shows that Indian immigrants discriminate against non-Indians.

https://www.brightworkresearch.com/enterprisesoftwarepolicy/...


Honest question from a fellow Asian: what would you say about the level of racism against African Americans among Asians?

For my part, I’ve had several unpleasant “oh, now that it’s just us Asians here let me tell you what I think” moments over the years.


Asians don’t really have that type of unity.

Maybe if it was, “Now that it’s just us Koreans, or Chinese, or Indians,” then maybe.

From my experience, Asian Americans are extremely progressive.


>I'm Asian, worked at FANG, have never discriminated against someone based on their ethnicity and frankly find your actions shortsided and regressive. You're fighting perceived racism with actual racism.

No one think they have ever discriminated against someone based on ethnicity. Even Donald Trump sincerely believes in his heart of hearts that he is the least racist person who has ever walked this good earth. But actions speak louder than words, and my real life experiences are not 'perceived', nor are the results. If a black candidate has two Asian interviewers in a loop, chances of hire are nil, no matter the skill of the candidate. This is based on a sample of ~15-20. I really wish tech companies collected data about the ethnic background of both the interviewers, candidates and the results to clearly illuminate this glaring problem, otherwise everything I say is anecdotal/heresay.

Even speaking for myself, when I've interviewed the only places I've received offers were during loops where there was a max of one asian interviewer.

As for your first question, I'm getting into murky waters but I'll admit that it is difficult to put aside the fact that every Asian you hire, makes it harder for another black candidate to get hired. But it's definitely not as simple as rejecting every asian candidate, definitely don't want to leave a pattern behind :)


> As for your first question, I'm getting into murky waters but I'll admit that it is difficult to put aside the fact that every Asian you hire, makes it harder for another black candidate to get hired. But it's definitely not as simple as rejecting every asian candidate, definitely don't want to leave a pattern behind :) i'l leave it there.

This has to be Poe's law. This is incredibly racist.


You don't understand what racism is.


Racism isn't always obvious and can definitely be subtle. But actively discriminating against a whole group of people based on ethnicity is cut and dry racism.

The grand parent said he was getting into "murky waters" but in fact he is fully submerged in the deep end of racism.


I think there's more informational value in hearing goog-anon's perspective than in condemning it.


Yes, goog-anon is doing candidates -- and the lawyers in Wilberg v. Google -- a huge favor by admitting on the record that there's explicit racial bias in their hiring process.


I've witnessed unconscious prejudices in myself e.g. toward female coworkers. I remember being livid because a female coworker corrected me in the presence of others. If she had done it in private I would have had no feelings about it. But I felt like it was a particular harm to my reputation on account of her gender.

If asked, I would strongly deny being even remotely sexist. Ironically, if I were in a position to hire or promote a female candidate or employee, I might be unreasonably biased toward the notion on account of wanting to have a diverse team. But in the aforementioned scenario I was caught inside of my own projections of an invisible pecking order.

The prospect that there are people who might have a similar reaction to my asserting myself while being a black man frightened me. I ruminated over past interactions, framing them in a completely different context.

Trying to make it in this industry has created a certain amount of anxiety and resentment, and it's compounded by the fact that I don't know which parts of it are my imagination or reality. I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to argue that everyone is prejudiced toward me, but rather my own constant uncertainty of how I'm perceived is both alienating and discouraging.


When using Asian here, are you referring to Indians or Chinese? As a black engineer, I have also experienced the same discrimination from Indians.


Both. But I'd definitely give the edge to Indians. My historical pass rate for Indian interviewers is dismal, like 2/25 (going back to when I was 16 y/o applying at KFC). I've had slightly better success with East asians. We talk about 'institutionalized' racism here in the US, but racism/discrimination is institutionalized in Indian culture and religions, and that's sadly not going away.

I wish there was a tactful way of requesting non-Indian interviewers, but there really isn't. There is no bigger waste of time than when you receive an interview schedule and see the names of the interviewers and 4/5 are Indian. Earlier in my career I'd go for the practice but I wouldn't even bother now tbh.


They might be responding to your prejudice. Try dialing it down and see if you get more offers.


Yeah, I'm sure they could all smell my prejudice across the table.

On a serious note, to keep a long winded answer short, I'm well aware of the phenomena that your mindset does indeed effect your behaviour/signals you put out and that in turn does effect how people treat you, and mindset is not something that can easily be faked. I've always been hyper conscious about this going into interviews and have even paid for some in-person mock interviews at some point in my career during a rough patch to spot any anomalies/negative vibes I may be giving off.


Indian here. I am sorry that you had been treated unfairly by anyone at all, and particularly by Indians.

For an iota of what it is worth, I _genuinely_ am happy to see black candidates. If anything I have a heightened sense of fairness and post interview I offer to spend extended time to attune them to the next interview rounds. In case I do happen to reject the candidate, I offer to write elaborate review from my notes (I take a lot of notes) with the hope it helps the candidate. Again, sorry.


Minorities fighting against one another for crumbs.


Please do the world a favor and blow the whistle (or at least speak anonymously to a journalist) instead of trying to subvert a broken system.


This problem gets written about every other month in the media. While revealing the details of my observations and experiences might be interesting, it's definitely not whistleblower material.


Your claim that the interviewers wouldn't pass black applicants "under any circumstances" is much stronger than any media report I've ever seen. Were you exaggerating?


> Were you exaggerating?

Only slightly. Very strong candidates will more than likely get a pass, but those are exceedingly rare and haven't seen one yet tbh. It's the majority who are genuinely borderline/just above average who will never get a pass/given benefit of the doubt that are given to others.


what color of skin has anything to do with coding test?


I honestly don't know what to think of your comment. I will say though, that from a perspective, you are basically saying you read with interest until you found a reason the "stupidly short-sighted" black man shouldn't have been hired.

When compared to the reality that almost an entire race of people in North America were stolen from their homes and brought to a new land as slaves to benefit their white owners... any potential wrong you are focusing on here is only visible with a microscope.

Your bad behavior doesn't need intent. You didn't need to intend to be a racist when you put him under a microscope like that -- but that doesn't mean you weren't racist when you decided it was important enough to write about. Especially considering the exact behavior is frequent among all races.

And it's the top comment at HN. I can't help but think this says something important about what is really going on.


Chill out.

The reason the original commenter doesn't like it is because said behavior is cheating. Injecting race as an attribute doesn't change the fact that the behavior is cheating.


AirBnB doesn't cheat? Uber? Facebook? Cheating and breaking rules is lauded in Silicon Valley, dare I say admired in entrepreneurs.

Black employees though, not so much.

This is racism.

EDIT: Before you start nitpicking my examples: http://www.paulgraham.com/founders.html

"They delight in breaking rules..."


All 3 of those companies you mentioned are pieces of shit and I do not endorse their various elements of cheating. If you admire them, you're stupid and morally stunted.

Stop trying to make everything about race. It is all so tiresome.


Those companies are also wrong then. Stop justifying poor ethics by pointing at other examples of poor ethics, it's a race to the bottom.


Here's hoping that HN can buck Law 619 of the Internet: the comment section of all articles which mention data that shows social, economic, or institutional disparities which negatively effect black people will largely be concerned not with the implications of that information, but with questioning the authenticity or reliability of that information; or else, simply with thinly-veiled racism.

I'll keep a running list of such comments until I get tired of it.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21043809

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21042933

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21042076

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21043252

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21044206


I don't know why people's expectations of this place are so high. Remember this was the community that defended Damore, Stallman, Ito, and even some were speaking positively about Epstein.


I never see it as thinly-veiled. Just-world fallacy is pervasive.


Usually people just need an eye-opener to jump out of the just world fallacy. But some people really cling to it, the way they cling to their original viewpoint in every argument. The person could have experienced the progression of a manager through their company who got started there because he was friends with so and so or went to the same prep school, and because of his personality traits continues to get promoted even though his record is subpar. They may have even complained about it in another thread. Yet, when it comes to race, they assume that this perfect meritocracy is open to everyone.


Why do you feel so compelled to make a list... and why didn’t I land on it?


[flagged]


Am I wrong, or just annoying?


[flagged]


I'll care what you think of me when you care to get "enough information" to say anything of worth.


> He coached them on passing the exam and succeeding in their interviews. Many were subsequently hired. Yet the percentage of blacks and non-Asian minorities in high-tech professions consistently remains under 2%.

tl;dr:"My father helped hire a lot of people, yet somehow total demographics didn't change". Right, one person should have definitely solved the problem but incredibly it didn't. Brilliant logic.


And how that matters? Show us the code!


Yet, there are a lot of black professional basketball players. Go figure.




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