Tech needs fewer techy people to be successful, argues Mozilla boss
The tech industry has a diversity problem, that’s no great secret. However, Mozilla head Mitchell Baker argues that diversity goes beyond simply the issues we’re already talking about and encapsulates the very talent we look to hire in the first place.
According to Baker, we need to include people from backgrounds in the humanities, people who understand philosophy and psychology, if we want to tackle the real problems the tech industry is causing. By hiring employees primarily from STEM backgrounds, we’ll only create a future with the same technological blindspots we currently have. In Baker’s words, it’ll “come back to bite us”.
“STEM is a necessity, and educating more people in STEM topics is clearly critical,” Baker said in an interview with The Guardian. “Every student of today needs some higher level of literacy across the STEM bases.
“But one thing that’s happened in 2018 is that we’ve looked at the platforms, and the thinking behind the platforms, and the lack of focus on impact or result. It crystallised for me that if we have STEM education without the humanities, or without ethics, or without understanding human behaviour, then we are intentionally building the next generation of technologists who have not even the framework or the education or vocabulary to think about the relationship of STEM to society or humans or life”.
Firefox creators Mozilla are no stranger to challenging industry norms. As both the chairwoman of the company and its non-profit parent organisation, Baker has led the business to be vocal about privacy and championed an open internet future. Now it’s looking to solve the ills of the tech industry itself in a bid to improve its future.
“We need to be adding not social sciences of the past, but something related to humanity and how to think about the effects of technology on humanity – which is partly sociology, partly anthropology, partly psychology, partly philosophy, partly ethics… it’s some new formulation of all those things, as part of a STEM education,” she explained.
“Otherwise we’ll have ourselves to blame, for generations of technologists who don’t even have the toolsets to add these things in”.
As part of this push for change, Mozilla has teamed up with three other charities to launch a competition to encourage universities to incorporate ethical education into undergrad computer science degrees. The Responsible Computer Science Challenge is lead by Mozilla computer scientist Kathy Pham and aims to grant more than $3 million (£2.26 million) over the next two years to successful proposals.
“Students of computer science go on to be the next leaders and creators in the world, and must understand how code intersects with human behaviour, privacy, safety, vulnerability, equality and many other factors”, explained Pham.
“Just like how algorithms, data structures and networking are core computer science classes, we are excited to help empower faculty to also teach ethics and responsibility as an integrated core tenet of the curriculum”.
This isn’t the first time concerns around the future of the tech industry due to its limited diversity have been raised. The artificial intelligence industry is worried that the AI’s of the future may not be as culturally aware as they need to be to thrive in the real world due to a lack of diversity in development teams.
So, while we’re still facing a battle to convince the tech industry that women can code just as good – if not better than – men and that gender equality is key to the tech industry’s success, we now need to really understand that true creative diversity leads to innovation.