I’m so used to working in a male-dominated environment that it didn’t baffle me when I realised I was in a conference full of techies of all colours, shapes and sizes. There are thousands of people here – all plugged into some app, some monitoring device, and some algorithm that I can’t understand. I know there are LOADS of Indians that are great at maths and science – I don’t happen to one of them.
Whenever I sit down next to someone (usually male), many of them do that double take when they see me. They look at me like I’m a unicorn from one of Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy books. The Bay Area is known to be colourblind – but it definitely isn’t gender blind. Even the ladies’ toilet doesn’t have a queue. That’s how many women there are here.
Many of the male speakers at the conference even opened their talks with, “Where are all the women?”
AT HOME TAKING CARE OF YOUR KIDS FOR NO PAY OR GETTING PAID LESS THAN YOU FOR THE SAME JOB. OR WORSE – GETTING SEXUALLY HARASSED AT WORK. DON’T PRETEND TO GIVE A CRAP ABOUT OUR ISSUES.
I was too polite to yell that across the room.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Difficult circumstances and a lack of equal opportunities is what drove them to start businesses. They figured out a way to create wealth in a system that was designed to keep wealth away from them. For most of my life, I always thought that entrepreneurship was a byproduct of struggle and overcoming obstacles.
No one I know ever set out to be a business person. It was the natural course of events that led them to it.
And this is why Silicon Valley baffles me so much. From the moment many of these kids were born, they have been ushered through overpriced private schools till they finally make it to those ivy league colleges where they meet their cofounders, startup shop in that proverbial garage and then tell tales about how they dropped out because their venture took off.
Of course, I don’t claim to know every student that graduates from these colleges – and I’m sure I’m oversimplifying things a fair bit – but that seems to be the pattern I’ve noticed since I got here. Just about everyone is trying to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and err some other super smart white dude.
Truth be told, I’ve never been all that into tech stuff. I’m the furtherest thing away from tech-savvy imaginable. Seriously. Ask my friends. They’ll tell you. And then one day I was sitting with a techie friend of mine (I have LOADS), complaining about all the problems I’m having at work as a teacher. And he started talking about AI and all the problems it could solve in the school environment.
And that’s when the hallelujah bells went off in my mind. My eyes filled with glee. I saw an opportunity waiting to be seized.
So it disheartened me a little to know that the hot topic of the year is… *drum roll*…
SERIOUSLY?!?! I know that it’s super cool and brings all those science fiction books to life – but to me it just feels like another self-indulgent project that a lot of resources will be pumped into when there are bigger issues to solve on a micro and macro level.
And that’s the problem with many people who are designing these ventures. From the day they were born, their lives have been so far removed from the common man that they have no idea what is going on in the world beyond the ivory tower that their overpriced education has bought.
I did talk to a couple of people about the longterm benefits that AI and machine learning could bring to the education system – and whilst everyone I spoke to did come across (or pretended to come across) as deeply interested – I have a feeling that the whole flying car thing looks so much better on social media.
After all – almost everyone I met would rather chat via Twitter than have a conversation with me face to face.
I introduced myself to a couple of guys that were sitting next to me. You should have seen the look of surprise on their faces as I held out my hand to shake. In hindsight, I should have asked for their Twitter handle and proceeded to have a conversation via that medium instead…
You live, you learn.