Saturday, November 24, 2012

Privilege and Success

@awindbynight shared an interesting article called Geeks and Privilege by Tom Morris.  I shared my thoughts on the article quoted below, but I wanted to expand on those thoughts more.
I was fortunate that I had access computers from a young age as well. Commodore 64/128, IBM XT, and so on. I also had internet access to help teach myself programming and access to programming classes in school to. I also knew a lot of people with the same benefits who tried CS and just couldn't cut it, so it is part both.
I want to delve into this a bit more.  Not only did I have access to computers at home, I lived in an affluent county with a strong school system.  My high school offered Pascal and C++ classes while I was there (I took both).  I also took Computer Science AP after hours at another high school (the last year it was offered in Pascal).  Had I not been playing with computers since such a young age, I might not have had the interest to take those classes though.  It is like a geek butterfly effect.

It someone didn't have the privileges I had, it is possible for them to overcome at least a percentage of that with motivation and hard work, but if you grow up in a town where the major source of employment is a steel mill, and most people don't attain college degrees, there is probably a good chance that is where you will end up with out a lot of hard work.  If I had those hills to climb, I don't think I would have ended up where I am today.

If someone does have the privileges I had, that doesn't mean they will automatically succeed either.  I know several people who had similar backgrounds to me that attempted to enter the Computer Science field and ended up dropping out of the major in college.  Others made it through college with a CS degree but then found that they absolutely hated it.  They have the know-how, they have the degree, but not the desire.

All things being completely equal in training, background and access to supplies, there still is an aspect of privilege.  In a world where it is hard to differentiate you from others in your field, it is often more of who you know, than what you know.  If you take two identical people in every way (not possible, but work with me) except one, connections, the more "connected" person will probably end up much better off.  Even if the connected person isn't as good, they are still likely to end up better off.

The last level of privilege is that I was born a white male.  This will usually work to my benefit just be default because of the makeup of the tech workforce, but enough has been written about this subject and I won't delve into that.

I'm not going to feel guilty for any of this, though. I acknowledge that things shouldn't be like this, but they are.  There are many that have been much more privileged than I as well.  The humanitarian in me says we should do something to grant access at least to the basic tools and training to those that want it (although I think forcing everyone to take those classes is bad).  But at the same time, I don't want excessive gov't regulation and spending to accomplish this.  Companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Apple already donate computers to schools.  There are also discounted or in some cases free software for students wanting to learn the tools.  But if a kid has to work a job every day after school to help support the family (to differentiate from a prat time job to learn responsibility and spending case) they may not be able to make use of those advantages.

Not sure why I felt compelled to write this, but I did, so here it is.

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