Can you name one prominent black or female web developer?

“Do what you love”, “Time is short”, “The only way to do great work is to do what you love”.

I’m really tired of hearing that. It’s lofty for sure and worth striving for, but completely detached from the reality facing of millions of people. Let’s be ego-centric and talk about just the United States, where everyone’s supposed to get a shot at the American Dream. From Education Week:

A new analysis of test-taking data finds that in Mississippi and Montana, no female, African American, or Hispanic students took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science.

In fact, no African-American students took the exam in a total of 11 states, and no Hispanic students took it in eight states, according to state comparisons of College Board data compiled by Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach and a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech.

Out of a sample of 30,000 students, less than 20% were female, about 3% African American, and 8% were Hispanic (combining all Mexican American, Puerto Rican, etc.).
If this were more equitable of current US Demographics, it should be about 50% women and 20-30% Black and Hispanic.

That has to change.

But until it does, it’s awfully hard to tell people to “do what you love”. Clearly a good chunk of US students aren’t even getting the chance to do something as basic as work on a computer. Those that can are likely white, have access to faster and newer machines at school, Internet access at home, and can go through the day thinking about HTML and not whether or not dinner is going to happen.

No one wants to support teachers and students in the pursuit of technology careers more than me. But someone has to recognize that not everyone has the same opportunity or chance and there’s not much I as an individual can do about it alone. For those of you in the web development community, ask yourself this: “Can I name one prominent black web developer?”

I can’t.

Only if I think for a few minutes can I name any prominent female developers. Except Natasha.

Most people would ask, “Well, why does it matter?” Because diversity makes for better companies. Anyone who’s watched even a bit of Mad Men can see that. Ad men used to spend weeks and months building advertising campaigns for things like pantyhose and bras and couldn’t understand why the campaigns weren’t successful until they got advice from women. Turns out women didn’t always want a “sexy bra”, they wanted a bra that made them feel comfortable.

Insight from women and people of all different backgrounds makes for a better product, a better agency, a better company. That leads to better products for consumers and a more well-rounded and heuristic approach to providing services.

On a personal note, I’m thrilled to work with a strong female designer here at SuperPixel because Natasha is able to bring a worldview and style that works well for women, and many of our clients are women. To this day I don’t think Colors with Suzanne would have turned out nearly as good as it did without both of us working on it.

So men, man up and help others ascend to a higher level. We’re all better off for it.

About the author

Justin Harter

7 Comments

  • I totally agree. Great article. I’m a black software/web developer, not so ‘prominent’ yet, and there are not many of us. I’ve been contemplating solutions for awhile… How do you suggest we change this?

  • I agree 100%. I dabbled with coding in my past, but have just been able to actually focus my time and attention to get back at it. (I’m a black American female.)
    I always loved recreating websites and I even built a linear app in my free time a couple years ago.

  • In 1995, the most cutting edge web design and developer was known by Entropy 8. Most people had no clue what her real name was and only a hint (use of a partial photograph) that she was black. Her name is Auriea Harvey. Updated information can be found on her here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auriea_Harvey_%26_Micha%C3%ABl_Samyn

    It is not that no black women prominent web designers and developers existed from the early days of the web because we (since I was a web designer at that time) were always there, but underreported, and those attempting startups were underfunded so we do not become prominent. Not much was different for black men even though more became instrumental in the dotcom era from literally Emmitt McHenry who created the alphabetic assignment for dotcom names over IP Addresses, Alan Emtage who built the first internet search engine (before the web there was “archie” … a misspelling of archive,” to John Henry Thompson who created the Lingo programming language that made computerized video possible for Macromedia, and the infamous hacker John Lee who despite being the leader off the most noted US Hacker War few know that he was the black leader of the New York based hacker group due to Hollywood’s tendency to depict all tech nerds as white and mostly male – hence the movie “Hackers” was whitewashed.

    While I do not doubt the statistics of your article given where the samples may have been taken and numbers are low especially for black and Latina women; a more accurate assessment of those numbers might be gleaned from all the HBCU (Historically Black College & Universities) who have computer science and other technology graduates year after year to assess the increase and decrease of black women in technology. Also, organizations such as the NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) or BIT (Blacks in Technology) as a professional organizations would have records as would the newer Black Girls Code organization.

    So all told, black technologist face numeric issues and invisibility issues. At one point, nearly all employees of blackplanet.com were black and most had worked at other startups before that. Omar Wasow was the most visible black technologist in the ’90s but we wasn’t alone – not even in New York. At the time that Wasow was helping Oprah learn about the internet, Robert “Bob” Ponce was the second president of the World Wide Web Artists’ Consortium (WWWAC) in New York City. WWWAC also happened to be the organization with the majority male white web professional members. The reason that prominent black web developers are unknown is because American media chose to predominantly feature white males even in the midst of black (and other people of color) contributing heavily to what we view as the web.

    As for me, I was the 12th hire – first hire in NYC – for the now defunct theglobe.com. I would eventually become Executive Producer for one of the web’s first social media platforms. I wasn’t the only black employee. I wasn’t the first black employee. Even when we ballooned to 250 employees, black and Latino qualified candidates – I know because I referred plenty coming straight out of NYU’s first web masters’ program – were not being hired regardless of how even more qualified they were than myself and others already there who were learning on the job.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see much changing today. At present, I am founder of Black People & Cryptocurrency. Globally, the least funded and reported startup technologists are the black blockchain founders. So, I wonder who in 25 years won’t remember Arthur Hayes (the first to launch a cryptocurrency futures market called BItMex), or Saritta Hines who at present is globetrotting for funding and beta testers of her airline industry blockchain venture TrustaBit, or Whitney Griffith whose Seamless Money is still trying to remove the Central Banking colonial yoke from Caribbean nations who wish to transact directly with one another, or Alakanani Itireleng whose Plaas platform is set up to establish and monitor ownership of African livestock, or Antony Alleyne in the UK who as co-founder of Phore has a ecommerce ranked by the Huffington Post as one of the tops with a solution set to tackle global ecommerce parity; these are the few among many others whose names join Harvey, McHenry, Emtage, Lee, Thompson, Wasow, and others.

    So yes, black people are in all facets of technology and always have been. However, our invisibility – as Ralph Ellison noted in his “Invisible Man” novel – is a contributing factor as to why people claim they cannot name us. So, we name ourselves.