How to fix Silicon Valley’s race problem: A 4-step program for white guys.

President Obama flanked by Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

Silicon Valley has a race problem.

You don’t need a Twitter fight to tell you that. And, while it’s great that CNN has made waves with previews of its upcoming show on the subject, you don’t need cable TV to tell you that, either. (For two smart views on the controversy, read Hank Williams and Angela on BlackWeb.)

Just look around. Anyone who works in the Valley for any length of time will have noticed the alarmingly large number of white guys occupying positions of power. There are a few women, and there are sizable contingents of Asian entrepreneurs among the entrepreneurial and venture capital classes. But there are not many women and there are almost no black or Hispanic entrepreneurs.

The White House photo of Barack Obama having dinner with a table full of Silicon Valley titans in February is the perfect illustration of this. Look at the table: It’s almost all white guys. There are two women, one of whom (I think) is the wife of the host, and the other of whom is Carol Bartz, then the CEO of Yahoo, who is known — and criticized — for being loudmouthed and aggressive. And there’s just one black guy: the President of the United States.

This picture is probably 100% representative of dinners among Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs and investors, except that the black guy isn’t usually there.

If you’re black, Hispanic or female, I can’t tell you anything about racism that you don’t already know. You’re going to need an extra dose of moxie, persistence and determination to make it here. You may want to consider, as Vivek Wadhwa did, hiring a white man to be the public face of your company. (Wadhwa also points up the importance of building your own networks.) These decisions will have to be up to you and whatever friends and allies you can recruit to your side.

But I can tell you what I’m doing about Silicon Valley’s race problem. And if you’re one of the white guys who run things around here, you should consider that you have a responsibility to do the same things.

I’ve hesitated about writing this post. But I decided I couldn’t keep silent about this, because one of my career goals, for the past 10 years, has been to make Silicon Valley more accessible to people like my daughter, who is both black and female. I hope this post helps advance that agenda.

So, here are my tips for white guys on how to fight racism and sexism.

First, educate yourself. You don’t know squat about racism or sexism. Period. End of sentence. So read. Watch movies. But most of all, talk to people. Find people who are trained in anti-racist education and invite them to educate you.

In my case, I have spent many, many hours in anti-racism seminars, educational programs about race and culture, and dinner table discussions with my family, extended family and friends. It’s a topic that is never far from my mind.

Second, make an effort to connect with people who are different from you. Make friends with people. Extend your social circle.

And really make friends. A friend once told me, early in my education, that the diversity of your circle of friends is best measured by who comes to dinner at your house. You may work with people who aren’t like you, but if you’re not having them over to dinner, you’re not really getting to know them.

In my case, work is now the least diverse part of my life. My family is multiracial, my kids go to a school where there are people from diverse racial and economic backgrounds, my neighborhood is all over the map, and I live in one of the most diverse areas in the country. It’s only when I start talking to PR people and Silicon Valley executives that the diversity level drops. But it’s taken me a decade of conscious decisions to get to this point.

Third, when you’re recruiting, widen the circle of candidates. Make decisions about who to hire (or invest in) based on merit. But make sure the pool is diverse, so you can at least make fair choices.

I try to follow this principle whenever I hire people. I’ve reach out to professional associations like the National Association of Black Journalists. I ask people I know to recommend talented women they know. I ask for help from my existing networks wherever I can get it.

Once I get that pool of candidates, I evaluate everyone on their merits. I’ve never given a job to anyone because I wanted to increase the diversity of my team. But I have gone to lengths to make sure that the pool of candidates is diverse.

This is, I think, the most important thing that white people in positions of power can do.

There’s a real benefit to this diversity, too, beyond some abstract notion of fairness. A diverse workforce is going to better at producing products that appeal to a broad range of customers.

And diversity breeds creativity. People who come from different backgrounds are more likely to have different approaches to problems, or different ideas. Bring them together and yes, there can be conflict and misunderstandings. But out of that conflict can often come much better ideas than you’d get from a roomful of people who have the same backgrounds.

Finally, be willing to talk about race. Realize that you are going to sound like a clueless idiot much of the time. But also know that for people of color, race and racism are constant topics of discussion. Race is an incredible taboo only for white, middle-class people. We are embarrassed to talk about it, or even to acknowledge it. But until we do, we can’t really learn.And yes, I am sure it sucks when someone holds you up as an example of white-guy cluelessness.

But when you refuse to talk about racism and race, whether from fear of embarrassment or out of ignorance, you can’t learn. If you pretend that it’s just a meritocracy, or that the problem is too mysterious to be addressed, or that you yourself are not racist, you can’t learn.

More importantly, you can’t do anything good about it.

I don’t expect that most white guys in power will follow these steps. It’s too uncomfortable and too difficult to do, unless you’re motivated by someone you love. But I can say that it’s something very much worth doing.

How to fix Silicon Valley’s race problem: A 4-step program for white guys.

Is it time to occupy Silicon Valley?

In my latest column for VentureBeat, I try to make some sense of the Occupy movement and its relevance to Silicon Valley. I was wondering why the protestors weren’t targeting local icons of wealth and power, like VC firms, Google, Oracle and Apple.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were good reasons for this. But there’s still something a little off about the relationship between wealth and social responsibility here.

Here’s an excerpt from the column. Let me know what you think.

I’ll admit, I’m a bit confused by the movement and its targets — but the answer, I think, has to do with the way finance works in Silicon Valley versus Wall Street.

In broad strokes, Silicon Valley investors are focused on building huge, billion-dollar companies. While you can get to a billion dollar valuation, at least temporarily, with a really weak, unscalable idea, you can’t stay there long without creating something of real value. You certainly can’t create a billion dollars in revenue without doing something meaningful — and, by the way, employing a lot of people along the way.

Wall Street, by contrast, defines “innovation” in terms of new financial instruments: investment vehicles that are increasingly complex and hard to understand and that do little for the country besides generate record profits for the banks that invented them.

Full story: Dylan’s Desk: Is it time to occupy Silicon Valley? | VentureBeat.

Is it time to occupy Silicon Valley?

Protestors block bank entrance, snarl traffic in San Francisco

protestors at Occupy SF

When I arrived at work this morning, helicopters were hovering over the financial district, where I work. I checked Twitter and found out that protestors were outside a bank headquarters nearby, so I grabbed the office camera and walked over there to check it out. After playing photojournalist and interviewing demonstrators for 45 minutes, I went back to the office and filed this story. It was a fun one to write.

San Franciscans took to the streets today to express their frustration with banks and a host of other economic institutions.

About 200 protestors blocked all three entrances to the Wells Fargo headquarters downtown, chanting, singing songs and waving signs. While the protestors offered a variety of opinions and messages, they all seemed more or less unified around the feeling that most Americans — “the other 99 percent” — are suffering while a tiny minority of the wealthiest see increased profits, reduced taxes and a general lack of accountability for the overall country’s economic health.

“We’re here because many people have lost their homes because of foreclosures by Wells Fargo,” said Barbara Roose, a Berkeley, Calif. resident who came to the protest with her son and grandson.

Full story: Protestors block bank entrance, snarl traffic in San Francisco | VentureBeat.

Protestors block bank entrance, snarl traffic in San Francisco

Dylan’s Desk: Siri is the grandmother of Marvin the Paranoid Android

Marvin the Paranoid AndroidIn Star Trek IV, Scotty picks up a computer mouse and speaks into it, trying to get the machine’s attention. “Computer! Computer!” When nothing happens, someone tells him to use the keyboard. “How quaint,” is his bemused response.

You might feel the same way in 10 years, if someone hands you a computer without a voice interface. That’s because we’re on the verge of an explosion in interactive, interpretive computer voice control.

“The technology is just beginning,” said Norman Winarsky, the head of the venture arm of SRI, a legendary Silicon Valley think tank. “This is real artificial intelligence and real technology.”

Winarsky was talking to me about Siri, the voice-commanded assistant built into the iPhone 4S and the most impressive part of Apple’s product introduction on October 4.

Read the whole column: Dylan’s Desk: Siri is the grandmother of Marvin the Paranoid Android | VentureBeat.

Dylan’s Desk: Siri is the grandmother of Marvin the Paranoid Android

Steve Jobs made a dent in the universe

Steve Jobs, the cofounder and former chief executive of Apple, has died. He was 56.

Jobs was a visionary leader who, more than any other single person, reshaped the face of consumer technology.

He was often quoted as saying “we’re here to put a dent in the universe.” He did exactly that.

From his earliest computers, co-developed with Steve Wozniak, to the smartphones and tablets that his company developed, Jobs showed a singleminded dedication to building products that were easier to use, better-looking and more intuitively useful than what had gone before.

He liked to say that Apple’s products were “magical,” and if that’s the case, he was the marketing and technology magician behind the curtain.

And if they weren’t exactly magic, Apple’s products were certainly a sufficiently advanced technology.

Read the story: Steve Jobs made a dent in the universe | VentureBeat.

Steve Jobs made a dent in the universe

Dylan’s Desk: Software is not eating the world

Software is eating the world, storied venture capitalist Marc Andreessen recently wrote — and from his perspective, it certainly looks like it. But that’s only part of the picture.

It’s true that the fastest-growing companies in a variety of markets are driven by their deep understanding of software. Andreessen cites Amazon, Netflix, Skype, Pandora and Zynga as examples.

… And yet, if you’re concerned about the long-term shape of technology, software is only one dimension of many. Arguably, hardware makers and service providers exert far more control over the future direction of technology. When I look at the companies that will make a difference to my future (and my children’s), I’m more concerned about the latter.

Read the full story: Dylan’s Desk: Software is not eating the world | VentureBeat.

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Dylan’s Desk: Software is not eating the world

It’s not the iPhone 5, but the iPhone 4S looks pretty amazing

Apple iPhone 4S in blackApple fans who expected an iPhone 5 today were disappointed.

Instead, all Apple unveiled was a phone that’s 2 times faster, with 7 times faster graphics rendering. It’s got a battery that’s good for a full day of talking, almost, and more than 3 solid days of listening to music. The camera is substantially improved, with a faster, f2.4 lens and an 8 megapixel sensor, and it records 1080p HD video. It’s a worldphone, meaning it will work on just about any cellular network around the world, both CDMA and GSM.

Oh, and you can talk to your phone, and it will answer your questions, thanks to a new feature called Siri.

Full story: It’s not the iPhone 5, but the iPhone 4S looks pretty amazing | VentureBeat.

More great coverage of the iPhone 4S launch from VentureBeat:

 

 

It’s not the iPhone 5, but the iPhone 4S looks pretty amazing

Can the Kindle Fire disrupt the tablet market? Not so fast

Kindle Fire imageThe arrival of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, a $199 tablet, in a market dominated by $500 models looks like an obvious case of price disruption.

Not so fast, says Horace Dediu, an analyst at Asymco: Amazon’s margins are too thin to allow it to compete on the tablet’s core technology. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the arguments that most observers have made in the wake of the Kindle Fire’s launch.

The Kindle Fire, announced earlier this week and shipping November 15, costs just under $200. For that, you get a dual-core processor, a 7-inch LCD screen, a modified Android operating system, and some enticing cloud-based features that let you access your books, music, movies and more via an internet connection. There’s even a promising-sounding browser, called Silk, which uses Amazon’s cloud infrastructure to speed up browsing by pre-fetching and cacheing pages you are likely to click on.

Continue reading: Can the Kindle Fire disrupt the tablet market? Not so fast | VentureBeat.

Can the Kindle Fire disrupt the tablet market? Not so fast