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Building a better and more diverse community (hackerschool.com)
49 points by izqui on Sept 25, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 116 comments

In anticipation of the comments we've gotten in the past:

* We hold everyone to the same admissions standard, regardless of race or gender. The grants are our way to create a more diverse applicant pool.

* Hacker School is free for everyone

* We admit everyone who applies who we think is a good fit. No man has ever been rejected because a woman was accepted, so there's no way in which this harms men.

* We auto-generate pseudonyms for applicants, so our initial application review focuses on people's code and what they write, not their race or gender

(I'm one of the founders, and I'm happy to answer any questions folks have about Hacker School.)

Really happy to see y'all doing this! Great work.

To my fellow straight, white males who have rushed here to complain, I find the following particularly relevant:

"I think it’s delightful that these straight white males are now engaged on issues of racism and sexism. It would be additionally delightful if they were engaged on issues of racism and sexism even when they did not feel it was being applied to them — say, for example,when it’s regarding people who historically have most often had to deal with racism and sexism (i.e., not white males). Keep at it, straight white males! You’re on the path now!"

from http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/17/lowest-difficulty-sett...

Just wanted to say that I continue to be impressed by how seriously Hacker School is approaching diversity. Hopefully other organizations who want to diversify their communities are taking notes!

Thank you!

Here's my question: Do you honestly believe that a poor white person from Appalachia, who has received very few advantages in life, deserves to lose out on this opportunity because his skin happens to be the wrong color?

Does he get fewer diversity points, even though his life experiences are so far removed from that of the white person growing up in, say, southern California, that they might as well have grown up in different countries?

Try being a poor black person from Appalachia, who has received even less advantages in life (and in fact, many disadvantages).

The rub is that on average, people who aren't white have a way harder time in America, hence the need for these types of opportunities. It doesn't matter that one white person may have had a hard life, it matters that systemically, non-white people have many disadvantages that white people don't have.

The core question which you keep ducking is, "why do you insist on grouping by race/gender?" I.e., why don't you group humans into "suffered lots of disadvantage", "suffered a medium amount", "suffered none"?

Among other things, the category "people who suffered lots of disadvantage" is more disadvantaged than either women or any racial group. Why do you explicitly exclude this subgroup of humans from consideration?

Downmodding, BTW, still counts as ducking the question. Good to know that it's a difficult one.

>>The core question which you keep ducking is, "why do you insist on grouping by race/gender?" I.e., why don't you group humans into "suffered lots of disadvantage", "suffered a medium amount", "suffered none"?


Because, and honestly I think you know this, in America a disadvantaged white person is still better off than a disadvantaged black person. A disadvantaged man trying to make it in tech is still better off than a disadvantaged woman trying to make it in tech. The problem in America is race and gender, everything else being equal - race & gender become filters because of racism and sexism. Two resumes that are _exactly_ the same, but one of them has a name normally associated with a black male will get far fewer bites from companies. Same thing with matching resumes but one has "Bob" and the other "Susan". The point of efforts like this is to close the gap that is created by sexism & racism. Yes, you could keep expanding the focus of the program until you become "Organization to solve every problem ever, LLC." ...but that's silly. There are some focused on AIDS/HIV, there are some people focused on Ebola, some people focused on Cancer.... and the people in this article are focused on race/gender in the tech industry.

It sounds like you are making a universal quantification, i.e. you are asserting that the poor white kid in Appalachia is still better off than Sasha Obama. Am I reading correctly?

The problem in America is race and gender, everything else being equal...

Again, let me repeat the question: why do you hold everything else equal?

A related question. I've observed that ever since LASIK, people find me more attractive but less intelligent. I'm currently running an experiment to objectively measure this. Suppose my experiment confirms my anecdata. Should we preferentially give scholarships to people with good vision?

If not, why not? I.e., what makes race special?

>>If not, why not? I.e., what makes race special?

What makes cancer special? Ebola? AIDS/HIV? Why/how does anybody focus on anything? btw, these are the kinds of specious debates on HN that derail the main topic into oblivion. Having to redefine & rehash all kinds of things you, as an adult, should already know about society. I'm not going down this path again. You should already know racism & sexism is a serious enough problem that merits focus. Not knowing that is a symptom of arrogance/ignorance/stubborness that can't be resolved in an HN thread. It's just a waste of time and detracts from the main issue at hand that wiser(employees of hackerschool.com) people already have a grasp on and wish to address.

EDIT: And off the front page this article goes. I want that comment-endorsing system to come back.

The concrete reasoning for Ebola is:

1) Positive claim: Ebola causes death.

1a) Death due to Ebola are probably easier to prevent than a random sample of death. This is because we can probably find a single procedure to prevent { ebola death 1, ebola death 2, ... }, while we cannot find a single procedure to prevent {shooting death 1, drowning death 2, ebola death 3, cancer death 4}.

1b) Thus, preventing death due to Ebola will likely be cheaper than preventing a random selection of deaths.

2) Normative claim: Death is bad.

2a) Preventing death cheaply is better than preventing death expensively.

3) Preventing ebola will reduce incidents of death by (1), and that will be good (by claim (2)). It will likely be cheaper to prevent deaths due to ebola than due to a random sampling of causes (1b). Preventing deaths cheaply is better than preventing deaths expensively, by (2a).

It's not remotely difficult to justify the normative claim that stopping Ebola is good. And you can now see my normative principles - if you believe death is good, we know why we disagree.

If we want to come to agreement, we now know we need to debate moral philosophy rather than empirical claims like "is ebola really a single disease".

Most of this conversation is me asking "what goes into slot (2)" and a bunch of people repeating to me what they put in slot (1).

You seem to be suggesting that the question is absurd but it's not. It's not only meaningful, it's completely obvious and natural. People who focus their research on a particular topic are routinely asked why. Same with company founders or even hobbyist. "Why this" has to be the most human of questions right after "how are you".

I, too, find the fixation on race/sex/class weird when there are many factors that seem much more important. I wrote about it before https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8160608

Are you white male?

Your previous writing is simplistic rationalisation of racist attitudes. "People aren't racist, the problem is black people for not inheriting hard work nor intelligence".

How can you call my writing simplistic when next to a crude classification of people into a handful of racial categories? Anyway, the original post was about a white guy. There's even a picture[1] in the article. Which is the point: that he was a white guy didn't matter very much.

Those categories (like race or sex) seem not only arbitrary but not even very good. Yet, commenters here insist that they are obvious and the question why those and not some other doesn't even require (deserve?) an answer.

How so? For those who, like me and yummyfajitas, missed that social insight.

[1] http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/08/10/sunday-review/0810...

The Sasha Obama thing is not even close to what parent said. Parent's point was in the first sentence. Let me quote:

> Because, and honestly I think you know this, in America a disadvantaged white person is still better off than a disadvantaged black person.

The point is that sexism and racism are sufficiently institutionalized in America so that members of either group will struggle solely because they belong to that group. Ideally all people of lower socioeconomic statuses could be lifted up by these types of initiatives, but minorities and women especially have the deck stacked against them.

If a non-disadvantaged black person is not better off than a disadvantaged white person, why do you want to favor them?

That's the core question and it's a normative one. If you give me a positive answer (e.g., citing statistics about group averages) you are ignoring the question. Telling me about group averages does not address this question at all.

I am asking what normative principle you are using to derive your normative claims like "it's ok to discriminate against disadvantaged white people in favor of advantaged black people".



Per rayiner's response:

Your attempt to create equivalencies between poor blacks and poor whites misses one crucial fact: our government did not systematically oppress and deny opportunity to the ancestors of poor whites. If the government burns down my house, then my neighborhood suffers flooding because of a hurricane, I am not made whole by the government addressing the flood damage. I am not satisfied with the government's attempts to "forget the past" and treat my case as no more important than that of every other person affected by the flooding. That makes no sense.

Do governments have persistent identity? Does it break after a revolution? What about a constitutional Monarchy like England's? If its a democratic government does having ancestors who voted for an oppressive government make them responsible for the past?

"Do governments have persistent identity?" What kind of a thing is that to say?

I could have said that in response to me looting a store... I shouldn't be handed punishment, because the rules of the government that were up 2 weeks/years/decades ago when I robbed the store don't apply today now that I've been caught.

That's a meaningless response. The fact of the matter is, injustices were once done (effects of which we still see reverberating today), now it's time to put the dollar on the line to make up for those past injustices. And, you know, it wasn't that long ago that these things were happening... it was merely a generation ago. Black folks you see walking and talking outside -- it's them, and their sons and daughters who couldn't drink from the same fountains as others. I don't think a lot of people really get this. Imagine your mother and father were subject to this kind of horror... how badly this would break them, what effects it would have on their parenting...

I understand where your coming from but "injustices were once done" is a pretty terrible reason for aid. If you go back far enough every group has committed some atrocity on another, Europe on most of the world for instance (also 2 generations ago)

"what makes race special?"

It's unchangable, it's easily measurable, and it has one of the most extreme biases.

There are many unchangable, easily measurable traits that result in bias by other humans. Affirmative action for short ugly people?


[ ] Unchangable

[ ] Easily measurable

[ ] One of the most extreme biases


[x] Unchangable

[x] Easily measurable

[ ] One of the most extreme biases

Many forms of ugly are unchangeable except with extreme medical interventions - the only major exception is fatties. And it's certainly easy to measure.

Note that sex is changeable, so I guess we can take it off your list. In fact, one can also pull a michael jackson for race.

So all you've really got to stand on is the subjective "extreme" criteria. Ok.

> Why don't you group humans into 'suffered lots of disadvantage', 'suffered a medium amount', 'suffered none'.

First, how does one directly measure disadvantage suffered? It's not a trivial thing to do. Hacker School doesn't have a lot of resources. Measuring race/gender/etc. is easy and correlates strongly with disadvantage. It's also a hard measure to "game" or fake.

Second, race/gender/etc. problems are (as pointed out) systemic in our society and in programmer culture specifically. That is to say, there are cultural habits, assumptions, attitudes, institutions, etc. which disadvantage people for no other reason than being nonwhite/nonmale. One thing that is enormously helpful in fixing these kinds of problems is simply having more nonwhite/nonmale people in the culture.

Helping a person who was disadvantaged by a mere quirk of fate helps only them. Helping someone disadvantaged by their race or sex helps them and helps everyone like them, in the long run. It reduces stereotype threat; it wears away at unfortunate cultural assumptions and attitudes; it provides positive role models; etc. etc.

Third, and most speculatively, I think these are the kind of problems that an organization like HS is particularly well-positioned to tackle. I believe that (e.g.) simple poverty and other forms of "brute disadvantage" are serious problems in our society (and indeed there still are some lingering class prejudices against poor people, so it's not an entirely "brute" disadvantage either). But I don't think that HS is likely to substantially help these problems by, say, merely offering grants to poor people. Poverty is too big, too general a problem to solve that way. But racism and sexism in programmer culture is a problem where HS actually has a shot at making a (small) difference.

It's _not_ a hard question.

First off, the rate of attrition among these specific minority groups is dramatically higher than it is for whites of any class. How many women who start as engineers are still engineers 10 years out? Look it up. If the disadvantages really are the same, then why is it that whites from lower income brackets do not have the same problem?

The answer -- as other users have pointed out to you repeatedly over the last few months -- is because the disadvantage is systemic and widespread.

That is why these scholarships are a good thing.

Again: I didn't claim that whites are on average as disadvantaged as anyone. I claimed that the group { x : disadvantaged(x) == true } is more disadvantaged than { x : black(x) == true }.

To prove this fact all I need to do is find a single black person who isn't. This proves that P(disadvantage|black) < 1, whereas P(disadvantage|disadvantage)=1.

So now we have the following groups, ordered by disadvantage:

white < black < disadvantaged

Why do you attempt to remedy the disadvantage of the second most disadvantaged group, but not the most disadvantaged group?

Telling me stats about blacks and whites does not address this question. The disadvantage stats are, by definition, higher for the group I've explicitly constructed to be 100% disadvantaged.

If you don't reach out specifically to minorities (women, for example), then the outreach doesn't work. So the groups that are systematically marginalized will never apply to begin with, meaning that your set that you've "constructed" doesn't actually contain the really negative cases.

Look, we're not writing a philosophy paper or doing set theory here. We don't have room for any of this "theoretical best" philosophical stuff you're working on here. There are reasons why this shit is set up like it is.

By definition, the set D={ x : disadvantaged(x) == true } contains anyone who is "systematically marginalized" (assuming that being "systematically marginalized" is actually a disadvantage).

Concretely, are you saying my set D does not contain Sasha Obama, but it should?

Or another example - my girlfriend is an upper middle class black woman from a majority black country. The minute she steps off a plane in the US, will she suddenly become more deserving of assistance than the white son of a single mother who earned $11,000/year household income?

If you are determined to slice by race, the answer is yes. Let M represent either Sasha Obama or my girlfriend.

Your assertions about racial averages takes the following form:

1. mean(M,N,O) < mean(U,V,W) 2. M > U 3. ??? 4. Therefore, we should preferentially support M over U, N over V, etc.

Step 3 is where I'm confused. Step 3 is a normative principle - you cannot derive a "should" conclusion from a fact without one. What is that principle?

Look, we're not writing a philosophy paper or doing set theory here...There are reasons why this shit is set up like it is.

How is this not a philosophical question? I'm sure there are reasons why "shit is set up like it is" - "tribal politics" fits the facts well. But I'm hoping for a more interesting explanation than that.

And I'm asking because I'm honestly interested. A lot of smart people seem to buy into stuff like this, and I try to understand it due to Chesterton's Fence.

I take it from your response that you entirely ignored my response about targeting outreach at demographics that have high attrition and low entrance rates. Specifically those groups. That's what we do when we do outreach.

I don't know what else to say. It's extremely simple. Targeted outreach works. You pick groups you want to include, and you target them for outreach.

Why are you making this so hard? Honestly, I question whether you're really interested. You do this on literally every thread where sexism comes up. It sounds to me like you really just want an argument.

EDIT: And, your insinuation that it's all tribal politics, instead of a very careful investigation of what outreach methods work for getting disadvantaged people into programs they wouldn't normally have access to is in such bad faith it's hard to even muster up the will to reply.

I'm not asking for empirics. The question cannot be resolved by empirics alone. I'm asking for your normative principle. You are ducking the question if you throw more positive statements at me.

Concretely: Empirical claim (a) + normative claim (b) + reasoning (c) = normative conclusion.

You can't get a normative ("we should" or "it's acceptable to do") conclusion without a normative principle. The empirical claim "Ebola causes death" alone is not a justification for preventing ebola. You need the normative principle "death is bad". If I ask for a normative principle and you tell me about experiments with monkeys, you are missing the point.

I understand (a). I understand your normative conclusion (racially biased decisions in favor of women are good). I'm asking you to explain (b), and maybe (c) if it is not obvious. And I have no idea why this is such a ridiculous thing to ask.

Let's do an exercise.

We say we're interested in targeted outreach to demographics whose attrition rates are especially high, and whose entrance rates are especially low.

You come up with the normative claim. Because the normative claim should be obvious.

Ok, now that you've made your guess, let's see what you've written down. If you guessed that the normative claim is that "we should consider it bad to have an industry so vile that (e.g.) competent female engineers exit the field at many times the rate of male engineers", then you win your gold star.

If you did not guess that this is the normative claim, then it is time to retire all this philosophy and set theory that you have going, because you clearly don't have the basics down.

I'm asking about this because my views are very confused. I don't have a good normative principle to appeal to.

On the one hand, I lean towards "you shouldn't make racially biased decisions". On the other hand, while I'm intuitively disliking the criteria for these scholarships, I impose more or less the exact same criteria when deciding if a woman is worth dating.

Unlike most of the people here, I'm completely willing to admit that my views are rather confused. And I don't understand the resulting hostility - why does asking questions make me a villain?

> why does asking questions make me a villain?

You ask the same questions every single time. You make exactly the same confused bigoted points each time this subject comes up.

You don't create as much discussion going the other way - there are no posts from you askng why society accepts most corporate boards having no women or asking why society accepts discrimination against people with Arab sounding names. All your questions are about why it's okay to discriminate against white males in these kinds of programmes.

Can you see how that skews perception of you?

No one on HN is defending discrimination against people with Arab sounding names. If they did I'd probably ask similar questions, particularly if this viewpoint seemed common among intelligent people.

There is only one other case where people on HN will defend such discrimination - when the person being discriminated against is from Haiti or India. I do tend to ask the exact same question in that case: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6856315

Interestingly, I did get a rather surprising response - the nation state is more important than humanity: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5533155#up_5533791

As for society "accepting" some statistical fact, I can very easily recognize principles to explain that view - the normative premise is basically individual rights (if no individual has been discriminated against due to their gender, nothing is wrong). I don't think that normative premise is unreasonable, so I don't mind attributing it to people who seem to be implicitly using it. The normative conclusion logically follows from that premise plus an empirical point. I'm fully capable of reproducing the reasoning.

I simply cannot cook up a logical chain in favor of discrimination by hacker school except by using uncharitable normative premises (e.g., "black people are the master race and deserve special treatment" or "sins of the great great grandfather shall be repaid by the son and anyone who looks like him"). I don't think anyone defending hacker school's discriminatory practices will actually endorse these normative premises, so I'm curious what normative premises the defenders do use in their reasoning.

I ask the same questions because I'm attempting to be charitable. When a viewpoint is widespread among intelligent people I go to great efforts to try to understand it - this is the "Chesterton's Fence" principle. Given the complete vacuousness of the responses I receive, I am already leaning towards the view that most defenders of such practices are simply being emotional and tribal.

Now you can call me a bigot if you want. But that's very confusing - in the one case where I do make racially biased decisions (sex) my decisions are almost exactly the same as those of hacker school scholarships (4/9 African, 1/9 White, over the past year). (Note that I live in a country which is approximately 99% Asian.) I truly do not understand how you draw this conclusion.

Let's take this to email.

Your point does not distinguish between flavors of disadvantage. Minorities and women have to deal with systemic racism and/or sexism

Here's how I suggest HS reach out to women/minorities: provide them with grants if they apply to Hacker School.

Done! Effective outreach so that traditionally-marginalized groups might participate enough to overcome institutionalized racism/sexism.

We might be getting somewhere. What is "systemic"? I.e., how do I determine if a disadvantage is systemic or not?

If I'm understanding right, your reasoning is:

1) Positive claim: women and minorities (including asians?) suffer systemic racism.

2) Normative claim: Victims of systemic disadvantage deserve special privileges, victims of non-systemic disadvantage do not. (I'm a bit shaky on this one - let me know if it's wrong.)

3) Normative conclusion: special privileges for women/minorities.

If that's correct, I can fully reproduce your reasoning once I know the definition of "systemic".

"Systemic" here is defined as "integrated deeply into a system." In this case, "systemic racism/sexism" refers to "the deep integration of racism/sexism in a particular institution or industry."

Also, I would amend #2 to say: "victims of systemic racism/sexism may be able to overcome those via targeted outreach."

Can you give me a concrete test I can use to determine whether something is systemic or not? And will any old system do?

Your amended (2) is a positive claim. It tells us "if X happens then Y will happen". You cannot draw a normative conclusion from a sequence of positive claims. You need a "should" or "aught" or "morally good" or "ethical" in there somewhere.

Discussions like this online are pushing me in the direction of favoring mandatory philosophical education.

Listen, it's not my responsibility to educate you on these issues. They've been covered extensively by sociological experts. Before participating in these discussions, I suggest you look around for some of the resources that cover these topics.

The uncited experts who's authority I'm fallaciously appealing to say your experts are wrong and a bunch of jerks. It's also a bit silly to participate in a discussion and suddenly declare that it's not your responsibility to participate after logic fails you.

One conclusion I have drawn from this - none of the pro-racist decisions people have a clue what the moral underpinnings of their views are beyond "liberal authorities tell me to believe this, so I do".

I honestly don't want to sit on HN and debate whether my claims about systemic racism are positive or normative with someone who believes I need a philosophical education. That's why I'm bowing out. Good luck.

I read the whole thread from here down, and I must say that I completely agree with you. I also think that positive discrimination is discrimination and is bad/immoral, and that we should focus on affirmative action only towards people who are actually disadvantaged. I also often get down-voted for saying so.

How would you like a potential applicant to quantify and prove how much disadvantage they have suffered? Do you believe that race and gender might be good indicators of the level of prejudice one has experienced in life?

"why do you insist on grouping by race/gender?"

because society does.

Well, that's fine, but do you also want to argue that women and pacific islanders, on average, have received fewer advantages than poor white people from Appalachia?

I'd argue that women, on average, have received less advantages than men. And pacific islanders, on average, have received less advantages than white people.

You're getting caught up in a taking a very specific sample and comparing it to a general population.

Yeah maybe you hold everyone at the same admissions standard but it's not true for accessibility to the grants. Will we reach a society where we hope to be born from a more "diverse" race?

That's racism... it's sad that you use racism while believing that you are solving it. Please don't help based on the race, help based on the needs.

Edit: Can anyone debate instead of downvote? That's doesn't seems like an healthy way to change opinions...

Okay so, not so long ago they were only providing grants to women. Did I think to myself oh that's sexist? No, you know why? Because I'm pretty sure they provide the grants to people with needs (at the end of the applying form you check a box that says you'd need financial aid). Yes, they're using filters like gender and race first.

But if you were a white male, you live in a society where you could probably approach any hacker space or anything else without feeling weird about it, unlike many trans*, queer or black/latin@ people. That's the way they're promoting diversity, by creating spaces where people can feel more welcome/safe, they're in no way denying white people or males.

I did find that sexist, maybe you weren't but I was. I was afraid to talk though... this is the sad part I guess.

> you live in a society where you could probably approach any hacker space or anything else without feeling weird about it, unlike many trans*, queer or black/latin@ people.

That's what need to be fixed. You don't solve that by giving them money. You solve that by showing we accept them, by stopping people from making them feel weird. A strict policy against racism is what's needed and being vocal about it.

> they're in no way denying white people or males.

That's making the issue here way more complicated to talk about for no reason. You need to draw a line between the school and the grant. I'm not saying they are racist for the school admission, I'm saying they are racist for their school grant. They are denying white people that school grant.

>I was afraid to talk though

Yeah, don't worry. While I may not agree with you on this issue I'm all for your right to express your opinion. However you may have to accept the fact that your opinion may give you a negative backlash, that happens to everyone, how ever it will only give you negative internet points (at least on hn).

>A strict policy against racism is what's needed and being vocal about it.

While I agree, how do you enforce that? How do you make sure that actually happens? How do you protect the groups which we agree have certain degree of disadvantage most of the time from the outside? And even with that enforced, being in an environment where most of the people might hate you based on your gender/sex/skin color won't change your experience based on a paper/set of rules.

>They are denying white people that school grant.

They're denying a group the grant. A group that as we have discussed and you seem to agree with me have more advantages, and even if they couldn't afford to go to hackerschool, could go to any other similar space near them. Because again they don't have to fear racism or sexism that can not be controlled.

edit: fixd typo, more space for read-ability.

> While I agree, how do you enforce that? How do you make sure that actually happens? How do you protect the groups which we agree have certain degree of disadvantage most of the time from the outside? And even with that enforced, being in an environment where most of the people might hate you based on your gender/sex/skin color won't change your experience based on a paper/set of rules.

Giving them money might fix that? What you do however is punish any racist action that happens. You kick people out of the school when it happens, no second chance. You give people opportunity to talk about it, you talk about it with people. What about a class that everyone need to do which talk about racism.

Now they are saying that it's okay to care about your gender and race, you will get monetary support if there's a possibility of racism... if you are not white...

>A group that as we have discussed and you seem to agree with me have more advantages

No I disagree on that part. I know multiple people that are white that have trouble with money and I know plenty of people from other gender/race that doesn't. Generalization is wrong. There's plenty of white people that couldn't afford to go and there's plenty of non-white people that could afford to go.

> could go to any other similar space near them

You make me think about it. A good way to use that money would be to help hacker school to stop racism. A safe network of hacker school that fight against racism.

> Because again they don't have to fear racism or sexism that can not be controlled.

I still doesn't see how giving them money fix that. I completely agree that's the issue that need to be solved.

This is getting too long and we're going around in circles about the issue.

So the only thing I'm going to reply is:

>Giving them money might fix that?

No, they're not trying to battle this issue you want to tackle. Simply because is bigger than them.

>I still doesn't see how giving them money fix that.

Again, this is not to fix this huge issue. This is to give other people the chance to assist this and assure them they can feel safe.

>There's plenty of white people that couldn't afford to go and there's plenty of non-white people that could afford to go.

And again, they're not giving you the money simply because you're non white. They might give you the grant if you mark any of the checkbox that make you eligible but you still need to check "I'd need financial assistance to do Hacker School" which is not automatically checked as you seem to believe simply because you check that you're non white.

Again, what you propose is that non white people who want to attend to a place like hacker school:

a) wait until racism is non existent

b) deal with ugly situations/experiences because there will be rules to make sure to deal with the cause after

Instead of doing what they want/love and creating safe spaces where they don't have to deal with stuff they shouldn't deal with in the first place.

If you want to keep discussing you can shoot me an email (pcepedam92@gmail.com). I could probably even direct you to people who could answer as to why your proposal of simply solving racism is not as easy, with plenty of real life examples and historical facts.

I'd be happy to! The original post says nothing about Hacker School's desire to "solve racism." Their goal is to increase the diversity of their applicant pool. Having previously instructed at a coding school which had a similar policy, I've fielded similar criticisms. In our case, we offered a 25% (if memory serves me) discount to female applicants. The goal was to spur more gender diversity in our applicant pool, and it worked swimmingly - our first class was a 50/50 gender split.

Despite our own perception of the success of the policy, we received plenty of complaints from both men and women. Ashe Dryden helpfully pointed out to me, when I had the opportunity to ask her opinion, that women on average earn 25% less than men, so really we had just made the program cost the same for women as it did for men.

If women or minorities are discouraged from applying to Hacker School because they would have a hard time paying their living expenses, these grants will help to eliminate that hurdle, thus achieving the goal of more applicant diversity. Needs-based grants wouldn't necessarily achieve that goal. Needs-based grants would also be more difficult from an administrative standpoint as applicants would have to prove their income, which would also invite a regulatory burden.

Here's the definition of racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

How exactly does that apply to a program that's created to help groups that have a systemic disadvantage in this country?

Can you describe which systemic disadvantage they have? Does giving them money will solve theses systemic disadvantages?

You're asking for examples of systemic racism and sexism in America? Really?

That affect their ability to go to that school, yeah.

There isn't a Terrible Racism Bandit that has stolen money from minorities, preventing them from attending Hacker School. It's the specter of racism.

The fear that, say, as a Cuban-American, your boss -- the person responsible for your professional development -- might make a whitewater rafting joke at your expense. You know this type of shit is commonplace in tech, and thus you think twice about furthering your career as an engineer by attending Hacker School.

This might seem trivial to straight white guys. This is because they have not experienced first-hand what it means to advance in a socioeconomic system that was built on centuries of slavery and over 140 years of disenfranchisement because they have never been part of that group.

I doesn't find it trivial at all, I simply fail to see how giving them money to help them attend hacker school will stop that boss from doing that joke...

Because it means hacker spaces, and (hopefully) eventually tech work places will be more diverse, which means the boss will feel less comfortable making that joke.

That's actually quite clever, wrt. generating everyone who applies a nonsense pseudonym so there's no unconscious bias happening in the pre-selection process.

It is, but what I've found a bit funny about the entire recent 'diversity' discussion is that such things aren't already done as a matter of course.

We're in an industry where modeling, A/B testing, logging, trending and engineering for redundancy is implicit - except when it comes to hiring apparently.

If a load balancer assumed to split 50/50 was actually operating at 80/20 someone would notice. If a particular demographic were bouncing from the landing page at disproportionate rates, someone would figure out why.

Both problems would be broken down empirically and solved with a thorough post-mortem published on the company blog.

To this point, those same sort of issues applied to hiring have been largely addressed with "We've got to do better" and "The problem is upstream" with barely a word about how things managed to creep so far out of whack to begin with.

It's really refreshing to see admission of an actual (potential) problem and some of brains being applied to mitigate it directly.

Good point. One possible explanation is that in many cases it's currently seen as sufficeint to say the right things about diversity and do enough to show that you're making an investment. Actually improving diversity requires significant changes that can be very uncomfortable; and is typically fiercely resisted by many (although certainly not all!) of the people who have the advantage in non-diverse environments. So the problems don't get attacked in the same way a company would approach things they truly see as business priorities.

Several years ago I had the charter for "game-changing strategies" at Microsoft, and some of what we came up was diversity-related. When I give the quick thumbnail sketch of my career, I sum this stage up by saying "the company didn't really want to change". And everybody nods sadly.

Just about anything when it comes to social equality is about as far divorced from objectivity as it's humanly possible to be. Too many emotions running hot, too many knee-jerk decisions made.

It is refreshing to see an actually objective, fact-based, and mostly well thought out approach to solving the problem.

As an industry, we used to be in favor of approaching meritocracy as a goal. We'd take pride in using github in lieu of a resume, difficult technical tests, and general attempts at objectivity.

Strangely, the pushback against meritocracy as a goal and objective measurement as a method doesn't come from the alleged "good old boy" network.



Consider 2 candidates with github profiles:

- A has a created small number of functional and elegant projects

- B has created a large number of functional but sloppy projects

Which is objectively better? The candidate who is more productive, or the candidate whose products have higher quality?

One may be a better fit for your organization, based on your group's needs and existing makeup, but that doesn't mean they are objectively "better" than the other candidate. Do you believe one of these candidates has more "merit" than the other?

Some people who believe a person has objective merit (as opposed to suitability for a particular organization or role) are actually expressing an aesthetic preference (selecting for tidy code, or work ethic, etc) while claiming/believing that their preference is "objective" truth. People opposed to using "objective" or "meritocracy" as labels are arguing for more nuance in understanding the needs and biases of people and teams.

>People opposed to using "objective" or "meritocracy" as labels are arguing for more nuance

This sentence is an oxymoron. An objective hiring process is one that looks at facts, more specifically those related to job performance and past performance with related tasks. Those are, IMO, quite literally the only things that should factor into the process since at the end of the day they're the only things that matter.

Coincidentally, this is described as a meritocracy. A process where you're judged solely on what you do, not what you are.

Wait, I can go one better. Candidate A) has a large number of elegant projects. Candidate B) is a ninja with a large number of high profile assassinations under his belt.

Obviously the question of "objectively better" comes with an implicit "for the role in question".

People opposed to using "objective" or "meritocracy" as labels are arguing for more nuance in understanding the needs and biases of people and teams.

That sounds pretty but it's totally vacuous - it doesn't give me any information on how the decision process would be altered.

The problem with "meritocracy" is that the judging mechanism is inherently vulnerable to bias.

So therefore we shouldn't try? What should our goal be instead?

That's completely non-responsive to the question of hiring. Salary negotiations usually come after acceptability as a candidate has been established. (Indeed, it's considered a faux pas to bring it up before then)

The goal of any hiring process would seem to be to acquire the best possible candidate for the position in question, where "best" is usually determined by factors such as job performance and culture fit.

Note that if you're trying to come up with what the definition of "best" is as a rule that can be applied generally, you lose already, since that will vary based on what the job is, where the job is located, who you're working with, and many many other factors.

"The word meritocracy comes from a political satire. It was never meant to be something we should aspire to. It was the opposite, actually, a warning about how we rationalize what we believe we’ve 'earned'. If that sentence doesn’t seem to you applicable to the tech industry and our cyclical discussions about sexism, racism, and even occasionally classism, go get yourself another cup of coffee."

from http://www.garann.com/dev/2012/you-keep-using-that-word/

Thanks! I'm actually planning on writing more about what we've learned from anonymizing our applications and from our application process in general in the next few days. I think some of the things we've learned could probably also be applied to hiring at a company with some modification (it's harder to anonymize resumes and emails than it is to anonymize a standard application).

Another side effect of anonymized applications is that we get to read a lot of funny application names (Beet Manager, Pastry Magician, Bean Pain).

Since there is a well documented hiring[1] bias against people with both female-sounding-names and non-white-sounding names, I think anonymized applications is an amazing idea! So many people never make it to even a phone screen because of insidious biases.

[1] seriously, so many examples, https://www.google.com/search?q=research+bias+hiring+names

Honestly, I thought it was embarrassing. The idea that you can't control your feelings enough to judge someone based on merit - even when you're conscious of your own bias - reveals an incredible lack of emotional intelligence. It seems like a gimmick created to soothe the nerves of social justice activists.

It was very strange to me that anyone would focus so much on diversity as much as Hacker School has. So I was looking around their site, and I suddenly found the quote that explains their near-obsession: "We make money by helping companies hire our alumni." Suddenly it all makes sense! Companies need to fill diversity quotas, so they turn to Hacker School to get as many women, hispanic/latino and black people as they can.

There's plenty of research pointing to the fact that some racial bias is actually unconscious. Conscious or not, this seem like a perfectly reasonable way to avoid it.

Your second conjecture is a bit tin-foil-hat to even address, but here goes: why does it seem strange to you that a prominent organization in the technology community would focus on diversity? Diversity breeds innovation - the more diverse the tech industry, the better it is for all of us (and by all of us, I'm referring to the entirety of the species). Diversity is a worthy goal in and of itself. There doesn't need to be an ulterior motive.

Really impressive program! I'm glad that these guys are encouraging diversity, but focusing on keeping the bar for admission the same across all candidates.

Any '-ISM' CANNOT be a real '-ism' if does not combine prejudice (which is the only thing people think it is) PLUS power (the social, cultural, and political heft which usually underlies the ability of prejudice to keep or enforce -isms in place)


Until folks understand this primary principle, most of you arguing for this "anti-white and asian" bias will simply be tools of the status quo. Equality does NOT mean treating all people equally, WHEN ALL PEOPLE DON'T HAVE THE SAME FOOTING, and don't have the same political power (which is conferred from our social and political system).

I am so happy to see this program in place. We all talk about how most problems we have with diversity come from upstream, and now a school is directly addressing it. An objective solution to an objective problem.

Diversity in our field is a hard issue to tackle, and it's great to see people trying to find solutions.

This said, I'd like to see the results, as I would believe the diversity problem is not as much with hackerschool as it is with the pool of applicants.

Their evidence for lack of bias in their process is pretty weak: "Men and women are invited to interview, advanced to a second interview, and admitted at the same rates."

All this means is that the person doing interview #1, interview #2 and admission decision are biased at the same rate. It doesn't mean that rate is zero.

The proper test - compare admission rates against a truly objective and unbiased measure like a final exam (particularly if students anonymize their names). If gender information does not leak to the grader, bias is impossible.

[edit: Wow, I've clearly made a blatant failure of reasoning - apparently my knowledge of statistics is far less than I thought. I hope someone can explain my error - I'm not afraid of math, so don't skip the details.]

What we mean by "at the same rate" is that these rates are the same as the rates that men and women apply. For example, about 65% of our applications are currently from men, and men are about 65% of the people we invite to interview, advance to the next round, and ultimately admit.

This is only evidence of lack of bias if you know the quality of both pools is equal. If there was a quality gap between pools, this would be evidence that you are biased.

I reiterate - if you truly want to measure bias on factor X, you need to compare to a metric that is blind to X or otherwise known to be unbiased.

I had similar questions. You're saying that if, for example, the quality among the pool of women applicants were higher than the quality among the pool of men applicants, then you would expect women to have greater representation among successful applicants than among applicants in general, and that if the female applicant pool were of higher quality and yet female applicants were accepted in the same percentage at which they applied then this would be evidence of an anti-female bias at Hacker School.

In other words, you argue that the genders are accepted at the same rate at which they apply is evidence that either (A) the quality between the two pools is identical and Hacker School is not biased, or (B) the quality between the two pools is not identical and Hacker School is biased. And that from the evidence there is no way to distinguish from the evidence between the two scenarios.

You might be able to distinguish between the two scenarios given the rate at which anonymized applications are accepted for further review. That would be your "metric that is blind to X".

I guess that the fact that for (B) to be true, there would have to be some coincidental match between quality differential and reviewer bias argues against the case of bias. And also that each stage approves the same proportion of genders is an argument against some kinds of bias (e.g. reviewers who, at each stage, sheer off a different proportion of each gender's applicants).

So as you point out, Hacker School's analysis requires some model assumptions. I think that the conclusion as written might have been too strong. I hope that any organization that might attempt to rigorously address the endemic issues of gender and race in our vocation will take exactly the steps you recommend regarding assessment of applicant quality, and if we find that males and females are entering into applications with different levels of quality then we will have another vector by which to address those issues.

I took this post as a kind of informal report about steps that Hacker School has taken to lessen bias in their application process and the industry in general. And given what I've written above, I take their statements as evidence--not proof, but evidence--of good measures against bias.

They did point out that the first round selection is done based on anonymized applications.

It might not be not perfect, but if round 1 is blind to X, and rounds 2 and 3 admit people in similar ratios to round 1, it sounds pretty good to me.

They did not claim that the % passing the blinded stage is the same as the % passing the other stages. The only points they listed were interview #1, interview #2 and admission (none of which are blinded).

> about 65% of our applications are currently from men, and men are about 65% of the people we invite to interview

That sounds to me like the point where blind review of applications would take place.

They said the blinded portion is only skimming the application, and they get that info after a minute or two. If they blinded the entire pre-interview process (e.g., browse github profiles/etc through a chrome plugin that changes "nitin patel" to "grande puta"), that would be fairly convincing.

Ultimately a quality measurement at the end of the process would be the best, however - measure the outputs rather than the inputs.

Your proposed test for bias would be reasonable for a traditional school, but although the linked post focuses on how Hacker School has fared in regard to gender diversity, Hacker School stands out more for its diversity of programming skills and skill levels, from near-beginners to CS PhDs, as part of the goal of maximizing how much the students can learn from each other. You're overlooking this important part: "We accept every person who applies who we believe we’re a good fit for and who would benefit from and contribute to Hacker School." This is of course ultimately a subjective standard, and any serious attempt to evaluate their success in meeting it is bound to be highly subjective as well. You might think that focusing less on raw programming ability would be an excuse for bias, but from what I saw in the batch I attended last year they achieved a very healthy balance along those dimensions for both men and women. It's to the facilitators' credit that if you removed either all the men or all the women from my batch, it would still be the most well-rounded group of programmers I've ever worked with, which again is admittedly subjective, but even as a white male as prone to statistical nitpicking as you are, I can't think of a better way to judge that they really do admit men and women, as individuals, in a way that aligns with their more holistic objectives for HS as a community of individuals.


> What percentage of hispanics in the US are actually non-white?

per the Wikipedia article you cite, 49.7% identify as something other than just White (100% total minus the 50.3% that identify as White.)

> According to Wikipedia, less than 3% of hispanics are african american or asian

Sure, but what significance do those two specific categories have? Another 1.4% identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native, 6.0% as multiracial, and 36.7% identify as "Some other race" and are reclassified against their identity as "White" in Census Bureau statistics (given the history of racial identity in Latin America and how race is understood in America, if the the "Some other race" category has to be redistributed to the other categories, it would probably be more reasonably distributed between "multiracial" -- mestizo identity as a distinct racial identity is a latin american phenomenon which is more multiracial than White, but holders of that might well not choose "multiracial" on Census forms -- and "American Indian and Alaskan Native" -- the phrasing of that Census category has exclusive implications that will lead people with identities in indigenous cultures of the Americas outside those of US territories away from choosing it and into "Some other race".

If you are someone that buys in to all this diversity nonsense, please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_dRt00ufp4

I am prepared for the downvotes, keep them coming.

oh, please. No one wants to engage with a self-proclaimed martyr.

>The short: We now have need-based living expense grants for black and non-white Latino/a and Hispanic people, as well as people from many other groups traditionally underrepresented in programming.

I disagree with this, it's racist.

If it simply said "for under-represented groups" you wouldn't have made that comment. The difference is that they need to clarify what groups are under-represented so they (people within those groups) can approach hacker school and don't feel like I did a year or so ago when I thought "oh I can't go cuz I don't have enough money to sustain myself".

Please define "under-represented groups". How do you divide theses groups? I love movies, does they have a group for movie-lover? What about books? I believe theses groups are based on race. Divide by race and you get what? Racism.

> "oh I can't go cuz I don't have enough money to sustain myself"

That's the reason why you should get that grant, not because you are from a different race.

> "Divide by race and you get what? Racism."

I believe you're confusing the mere recognition of races and the fact that they exist with racism. They aren't the same thing.

Not to go all dictionary on you, but here's what American Heritage has to say: "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races."

Nothing in the post falls under the strict dictionary definition of racism. I would also argue that nothing in the post at all falls under any definition of racism.

There's a pretty significant difference between giving everyone that isn't a white male an advantage and putting everyone that is a white male at a disadvantage.

I've no idea what that difference is, exactly, but I do know that you're not allowed to question it under any circumstances.

Eeeeyup. The color of their post would seem to concur with that. You disagree or question and you're immediately voted down to #000001 or thereabouts - nevermind your motives, you're an (insult) (insult) for daring to ask.

This is a very simple and pretty inoffensive question, IMO. If your goal is diversity and helping the disadvantaged: Why race instead of socioeconomic status?

By the way, they're not wrong. Racial discrimination has a pretty black and white objective definition, folks, and clicking the down arrow on my or any other post does nothing to change that definition.

It does, however, make this community look bad and knee-jerk-y. Do think before clicking, please.

"Why <race,gender,etc> instead of socioeconomic status?"

Their objective is not to target and assist the people who need the most help in getting into hacker school, like the most socioeconomically challenged people in your example. That would pose a number of problems and concerns.

First of all, it would require more outreach. It would also be slower and more difficult, for factors like lack of transportation, communication, or english as a second language, just to name a few. Finally, it would be politically unwise to snub certain groups (feminists, black coalitions, etc) that are much louder and more organized than other groups or individuals, regardless of whether they are in more need.

Basically: it's both easier and more attractive to support the most vocal minorities, and it's much harder to support the people that are actually in the most need.

And yeah, people tend to vote their feelings here. You will get a million more upvotes by supporting someone's misguided cause than you will by calling out the illogical motivation.

I really don't understand this obsession with diversity in tech, particularly the oft-repeated mantra of "the team as a whole improves when there's more ethnic/gender diversity", as if being black or genderqueer gives you special insight into distributed computing algorithms. This seems like a uniquely American phenomenon. I certainly don't think you hear a lot about this in India, China, Japan, etc. And yet, their companies still manage to function.

It's pretty easy:

1. American society consists of all kinds of people

2. A lot of those groups are weirdly underrepresented in the American tech industry

3. That means we're wasting a lot of great programming talent at a time when we badly need it.

1. American society consists of all kinds of people

2. One group is weirdly underrepresented in the American [nursing/childcare/secretarial industry]

3. That means we're wasting a lot of great [nursing/childcare/secretarial] talent at a time when we badly need it.

Does this make any sense to you? If no, your own statement should not either.

You are of course making the assumption that there's this enormous well of brilliant programmers who aren't getting hired simply because they're not white males...

And to the third point, the "labor shortage" is BS, this has been debated a thousand times.

Diversity can only improve a system. The article specifically addresses that point.

To some extent yes, to some extent no. I would argue that the reason a country like Sweden is considered a model for the rest of the world to follow is largely because the homogeneous population makes it easy to push forward with very progressive policies. Contrast that with the US, where something like nationalized healthcare is basically a pipedream because of so many competing interests (or diversity of viewpoints, if you will).

Great point! There was this group in Germany after the Great War that had a similar notions about how great it might be to eliminate a tad bit of the diversity in their country. You know, to help make things happen! I suggest you consult Wikipedia for the result of their efforts.

Oh boy, you went there. No one is talking about genocide to eliminate diversity, just that there are instances where diversity can be a hindrance.

Yes, exactly! These guys didn't start out by talking about genocide, either! They just wanted people to know that there are some instances where diversity can be a hindrance. Just like you want people to know!

Once again, those Wikipedia articles are highly recommended reading.

First of all you're making the mistake that "diversity" is always short for "racial diversity". The poster I was replying to make the blanket statement "diversity always improves a system". Well no, not always. And I wasn't even referring to race in my counter-argument. You of course brought up Nazis, the old "I have nothing good to come back at you with so... YOU'RE TALKING LIKE A NAZI!!!!" bit.

The main example I pointed out is American politics. There is quite a bit of diversity of opinion and that makes it far more difficult to reach a consensus about a particular issue than you'll find in e.g., European and Asian countries, which have far more homogeneous populations (and by extension, far more homogeneous political/social opinion). As a result, the speed with which progressive policies can be implemented in America ...lags... our European brethren, to put it lightly.

No, I wasn't making that mistake at all. I was talking about racial diversity because YOU were talking about racial diversity, pointing to the Swedes as an example of an ethnically homogenous culture that is able to Get Things Done due presumably to the fact that most folks there are blonde. (Side note: if you'd like a meatier comment to respond to, there's always the parent's that you're ignoring: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8368839)

I pointed out that you were talking like a Nazi because, in this instance, you were talking like a Nazi. Do I think you secretly harbor a desire to wipe out an ethnicity via genocide? Nope. Do I think that criticizing ethnic diversity as standing in the way of progress sounds suspiciously fascist? Why yes, yes I do!

Identity politics has no doubt hamstrung the American left, but that has had little to do with your cited example of the failure to implement a nationalized healthcare system. Diversity increases viewpoints, more viewpoints invite stronger debate. Does less debate lead to better outcomes, or faster outcomes? Which is preferable?

Your counterexample relies on a lot of claims... A) Sweden is considered a model for the rest of the world to follow. B) Sweden has a homogeneous population. C) That homogeneous population is the primary reason for Sweden's success. D) Nationalized healthcare in the US is a pipedream. E) It's a pipedream specifically because of a "diversity of viewpoints".

There have been books written on why nationalized heathcare is hard to achieve in the US. It's a very complex issue that is inherently entangled with both the mechanics of the US political system and the US media. Blaming it on a "diversity of viewpoints" does a disservice to the issue.

I know we're feuding in the other thread, but I just happen to flat-out disagree with you on this.

Believe it or not, I'm open to being convinced. Care to share what you're basing this statement on?

Here's what the article has to say, and I agree with it:

Why diversity is important to Hacker School

There are many reasons why diversity is valuable, but there are two reasons why it is especially important to Hacker School as an organization.

The first is that diversity helps to reduces the harmful effects of stereotype threat. Put another way, we focus on diversity so Hacker Schoolers don’t have to. We want you to be able to focus on becoming a better programmer, not being the only person like you in the room. The more diverse Hacker School is, the easier it is for a greater range of people to do that.

Second, a large part of the value of Hacker School is what Hacker Schoolers learn from each other. Hacker School relies on a diverse range of experiences and perspectives; if everyone were the same, no one would have anything to learn from each other! Our self-directed and peer-driven educational model is in this way very different from traditional, one-size-fits-all approaches to education.[1]

Given this, it’s unsurprising that Hacker School has gotten better as our community has grown to include more women, trans people, genderqueer people, older people, younger people, parents, and people from a greater range of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

[1] Consider a traditional lecture-based class with a fixed curriculum. That model is built around homogenity, not diversity: It’s much easier to operate if everyone involved has the same background, interests, learning-style, and rate of growth. Our model is the opposite: It’s helped not harmed by diversity.

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